On Tuesday, voters in four states decided whether to raise the minimum wage starting in 2015.
Voters in Alaska, Arkansas, Nebraska and South Dakota all decided to approve the increases. Illinois voters approved a non-binding ballot initiative to raise the state’s minimum wage.
The measure in Illinois was placed on the ballot by that state’s legislature, while the measures in the other states were added by citizen initiatives. A number of other states, including New York, Massachusetts and West Virginia, are also set to increase their minimum wages in 2015, in accordance with previous legislation.
When states put minimum wage increases on the ballot, voters tend to be supportive. But voters this week also flipped the balance of Congress in favor of Republicans, many of whom say they don’t want to raise the minimum wage.
“Don’t ever make assumption that voters are consistent in the way they think,” says Jeffrey Berry, a professor of political science of Tufts University. “When you go into the ballot booth, and cast your vote, there’s here’s no sign that says, ‘You’re required to be consistent in the way you vote. Please proceed.’”
He says voters who supported the increase in minimum wage may still have wanted to convey a desire for change in Washington – the two messages don’t have to be mutually exclusive.
But the popular support for these increases likely won’t push Republicans to embrace raising the federal minimum wage, says Berry, because that’d be too big a win for President Obama.
“That’s the last thing this new Congress wants to do,” he says.
While the state-by-state approach feels chaotic, it also kind of works.
“You might say that it makes more sense to have a $10 minimum in California and a $7.25 minimum in Mississippi than to have a $9 minimum in both,” says David Neumark, a professor of economics and the director of the Center for Economics & Public Policy at the University of California, Irvine. He notes that outliers like Seattle and San Francisco which have voted for $15 per hour minimum wage are the exception.
Even before these elections, nearly two dozen states – plus District of Columbia – had set their minimum wages above the federal level.
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