Voters Are Workers, Too

September 27, 2021

A recent Oxfam America report ranked North Carolina as the worst state in the nation for working people. The ranking was due mainly to North Carolina’s dismal showing across three specific policy areas: wages, worker protections and the right to unionize. But don’t blame the voters. We find that our state’s big business-friendly approach sits directly opposite to actual voter preferences in our state.

New polling from Carolina Forward shows strengthening support for policies to support and benefit North Carolina’s workers. By a wide margin, we find that registered voters support raising North Carolina’s minimum wage to $15 an hour; and in a landslide, they support guaranteeing paid time off to every worker in our state.

First – on wages, support for raising the state minimum wage to $15 an hour is extremely strong and cuts across many different voter cohorts. Among respondent categories, registered Republicans were alone in disagreement with raising the minimum wage; though even there, 1 in 4 Republican respondents agreed:

Unaffiliated voters support raising wages by 14 points, and even among traditionally conservative rural voters, the proposal is a statistical tie. A $15 an hour state minimum wage wins every age group and racial category measured.

Regular readers might remember that back in February, we polled raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour. Raising the federal minimum got +13 net support overall. The most notable difference between this poll, which asked about the state minimum wage, versus the February poll, which measured the federal minimum, turned out to be Independent (unaffiliated) voters. Though split pretty much evenly on the federal minimum wage, Independents registered much stronger support for raising the state minimum. Independents went from 45% in favor of raising the federal minimum to 55% in favor of raising the state minimum.

Wage pressure is moving steadily upwards in North Carolina, as in the country as a whole, which is great news for workers and families. There are jobs aplenty available for those who want them and workers have more negotiating power on wages than ever. Curiously, some of North Carolina's politicians bemoan this situation as a bad thing. State Senator Chuck Edwards, for example, a three-term Henderson County politician and millionaire owner of several McDonalds franchises, has vocally complained about rising wages for North Carolina’s workers.

Workers Deserve a Break

Turning to paid time off, we found a groundswell of popular support that broke virtually every party and regional boundary. In something akin to a perfect alignment of the planets, Democrats, Republicans and Independents all agree strongly that all workers in North Carolina should have guaranteed paid time off from work:

Most people are unaware that employees in North Carolina are not guaranteed any break time whatsoever under state law. Lots of workers (particularly hourly ones) enjoy neither paid breaks while on the job nor sick leave they can use for themselves, an unwell child or loved one. This is plainly an inhumane and cruel system, but it’s the one in place in North Carolina today. Particularly during the COVID era, a lack of paid sick leave has been a key contributor to the spread of the pandemic, since many workers simply cannot afford to skip a day of work when sick. Democrats have proposed to guarantee both paid sick days and paid breaks for workers multiple times, but Republican opposition has killed each bill in committee. Opposition to these bills is both ideological as well as pecuniary: lobbyist pressure from the big-business NC Chamber of Commerce has ensured that these proposals were squashed.

As noted in Our Daily Bread: The Hourly Workers Package, 38% of North Carolina’s entire workforce lacks any paid sick time at all.

Taken together, these poll results demonstrate a solid base of support among North Carolina voters for reforms aimed at tangible improvements for workers’ livelihoods. North Carolina is predominantly a blue-collar state whose workers are consistently taken advantage of through a cozy (and frequently corrupt) alliance of big business and right-wing politicians. If workers in our state began flexing their political muscles, a lot of things might begin to change.


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