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Miller: Minimum-wage debate resonates with voters

Published: Monday, Jan. 13, 2014 11:36 p.m. CDT

If Bruce Rauner manages to successfully back away from his recently unearthed statement from December that he favored reducing the state’s minimum wage by a dollar an hour, he will have dodged a very serious political bullet.

According to a new Capitol Fax/We Ask America poll, the idea is absolutely hated in Illinois.

Asked whether they would be “more likely or less likely to vote for a gubernatorial candidate who supports lowering the state’s minimum wage to the national rate of $7.25 an hour,” a whopping 79 percent said they’d be less likely.

That’s definitely a result that could move actual votes on Election Day, particularly in the context of the messenger: a hugely wealthy political unknown whose advertising campaign is trying hard to turn him into a “regular guy.”

Women were 84 percent less likely and men were 73 percent less likely to vote for a candidate who wanted to lower the minimum wage by a dollar an hour, according to the poll taken Wednesday of 1,135 likely voters with a margin of error of plus-minus 3.1 percent. Democrats were 90 percent less likely, while independents were 77 percent less likely. Even Republicans were 63 percent less likely to vote for such a candidate.

As the controversy was building last week, Rauner told a Carbondale audience that if the minimum wage was increased here, he would only support it if the state also made “our labor regulations and our tax burden much more attractive to small business.” He added that he still could support lowering the minimum wage “in the context of dramatically improving our schools and creating a business environment where everybody’s got jobs.”

But by Wednesday, Rauner had completely backed away, claiming he was “flippant” when he unequivocally said in a December forum in the Quad Cities that he wanted to roll back the minimum wage to the national level because Illinois’ dollar-an-hour difference was “hurting our economy.” After a huge firestorm of controversy erupted, Rauner claimed that he actually could support raising the minimum wage, as long as it was coupled with some key legal changes like unspecified workers’ comp and tort reforms.

The Democratic Governors Association, which has formed an Illinois political action committee that likely will be used as a conduit to attack Rauner in the GOP primary, attempted to counter Rauner’s spin.

“They say a gaffe is when a politician tells the truth,” said DGA Communications Director Danny Kanner. “In the case of Bruce Rauner, he showed his true colors when he said that Illinois’ minimum wage needs to be cut ... and voters won’t soon forget.”

If voters do forget, then Rauner’s new position in favor of increasing the minimum wage finds favor with a majority of voters when asked: “Would you be more likely or less likely to vote for a gubernatorial candidate who supports raising the state’s minimum wage rate to $10 an hour?”

According to the poll, 55 percent of likely Illinois voters would be more likely to support such a candidate, while 38 percent would be less likely. Women would be far more supportive (62 percent) than men (46 percent) of such a candidate. It’s a make or break issue for 81 percent of Democrats.

A strong 65 percent of Republicans would be less likely to support a candidate who backed a hike to $10 an hour, so Rauner may have now created a problem with his GOP primary voter base.

Barely mentioned in the media’s coverage of the issue last week is that Sen. Kirk Dillard told the very same audience as Rauner that he favored allowing the “marketplace” to set the minimum wage and not the government.

That position is as unpopular as Rauner’s original push for lowering the wage by a dollar. A very high 76 percent said they’d be less likely to vote for a gubernatorial candidate “who supported having no minimum wage whatsoever.” Seventy-five percent of women and 79 percent of men would be less likely to vote for the candidate, as would 82 percent of Democrats, 78 percent of independents and even 63 percent of Republicans.

“Anyone suggesting eliminating it altogether may end up in the Guinness Book of World Records for the dumbest political idea ever,” said pollster Gregg Durham about the issue.

Maybe not, but close enough.

• Rich Miller publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and CapitolFax.com.

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