With Washington and states around the country debating policies that impact women and families, there is a huge opportunity to elevate family economic issues in the conversation. Round after round of research finds that financial insecurity and anxiety dominate voters’ concerns right now, and accordingly they support policies that will give families a fair shot at getting ahead.
Recent polling and focus groups into these issues found broad public support, and shone a light on the opportunity we have to engage voters on these issues. The research provides a roadmap for converting voters’ conceptual support for these policies into a demand for immediate action. The focus groups were comprised of both unmarried and married women, Latinas, and millennial men and women – all constituencies of the Rising American Electorate.
While participants across the board feel financial stress and worry, they are disengaged from the political process and the idea that laws and policies could improve their situation does not occur to them.
Once presented with policy solutions aimed at easing their feelings of financial instability (raising the minimum wage, paid sick days, paid family and medical leave, and equal pay), participants are very positive, something our previous polling also confirms.
Now let me read you a four-part policy proposal that some people are discussing as a way to help our families become more financially secure.
Raise the minimum wage to ten dollars and ten cents an hour;
Make it harder for employers to pay women employees less than men for similar work;
Guarantee workers the ability to earn paid sick time for routine illnesses like the flu or to get medical care;
Create a family and medical leave insurance fund, paid for by contributions from workers and their employers to give workers a portion of their wages when they need to take leave from work when they or a loved one is seriously ill or they need to care for a new baby.
Do you favor or oppose the plan you just heard about?
With such strong levels of support, it is no surprise to see voters across party lines offering support for this four-part policy suite, particularly among women.
Our challenge is not in persuading people to support these policies; polling and focus groups confirm that voters already view these as important policies to help families. Rather, our challenge is compelling voters to send a message to Washington and communicate in their neighbors and communities about the importance of these policies.
One of the ways in which we want to stoke urgency for voters is by calling on them to take immediate action in demanding that lawmakers enact these policies. We need to illustrate to voters through real-world examples that these policies are needed NOW, and encourage them to sending a message to candidates and policymakers who support these policies that they need to act. The recent polling finds that once voters learn about these policies, they are more likely to support candidates who favor them. In fact, 60% of voters, including 53% of Independent voters and 45% of Republican voters are more likely to support a candidate who supports policies like these. Women are even more likely to vote for candidates who support these policies. Over half (57%) of Independent women and 53% of Republican women say they would use a candidate’s support for these issues to determine their vote. Only about a fifth of voters overall say they are less likely to support a candidate who favors these policies – indicating there is virtually no downside to supporting them.
Women (65% more likely), African Americans (78% more likely), Hispanics (68%), and millennial men and women (69%) are all even more likely to use a candidate’s support for this policy package as vote-determining. Even a large majority of Independent women voters (57%) are more likely to vote for a candidate based on their support for these issues.
Support for the Paycheck Fairness Act
Voters strongly support for the Paycheck Fairness Act, a proposal to help eliminate pay discrimination. 62% favor the law / 29% oppose, including 38% who strongly support the law. Support is highest among women (66% favor) but has strong support with men as well (57%). The PFA has strong support across voters of all ages, but is particularly strong among millennial men and women (69% favor). A majority of Independents (58%) and even Republican women (51%) support it.
In focus groups, participants believe that equal pay for women is critical, and support policies aimed at ending gender discrimination in pay. Participants of all ages and genders believe that this is a problem that still occurs in modern workplaces, but is difficult to identify because salaries are often kept confidential. They support lawmakers who make this issue a priority, confirming our polling which finds that 57% of voters are more likely to vote for a candidate that supports the Paycheck Fairness Act.
Support for Paid Family and Medical Leave and Paid Sick Days
Like they do with the Paycheck Fairness Act, voters are very supportive of the Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act (FAMILY Act), a national paid family and medical leave proposal that would guarantee all workers a portion of their usual pay when they need to take time from work to take care of a serious health problem, a sick relative, or care for a new baby. Voters support the FAMILY Act 63% / 29%, including 69% of women, 88% of African American voters, 77% of unmarried women, and 72% of Hispanic voters. Millennial men and women are among the strongest supporters of the FAMILY Act, 77% favor / 19% oppose. Support for the FAMILY Act extends to 54% of Independents and 47% of Republicans. For Republican women, support is even higher, 55% of Republican women support the FAMILY Act (as do 61% of Independent women).
Support for Paycheck Fairness and FAMILY Act by key demographic
Voters also support a policy that would allow workers to earn paid sick time at work to use for themselves or sick loved ones. Previous polling on the national level as well as every location it has been tested confirms that this is an issue about which voters feel strongly. – research conducted by American Women in September of 2013 found that someone in your family becoming ill was a top worry among women voters, and polling conducted by UltraViolet in November 2012 found that 73% of voters support the President and Congress addressing the issue of paid sick days, specifically ensuring employers provide a set number of paid sick days for employees.
Through national polling among likely 2014 voters and in-person focus groups with unmarried and married women, Latinas, and millennial men and women – all components of the Rising American Electorate --we have identified the following recommendations for engaging in a meaningful and motivating dialogue with voters on issues that impact women and families.
- Talk their talk – connect with women and their families by meeting them where they live, and making these policies things that has meaning for them.
- Make these policies about women and their families, not just women.
- Drive home the point that while our lives have changed, workplace policies have not caught up.
- Make it personal – use real-life examples of what families are going through in this economy to illustrate the need for meaningful financial security.
- Define the problem before pivoting to the solution to help clarify what gender discrimination and inequality look like in a modern workplace.
- Acknowledge the difference between small and big businesses.
- Talk about raising the minimum wage and equal pay as policies that will help build an economy that works for all of us.
- Give the solution – send the message to Washington and communicate with your community.
For further message guidance and language that works, refer to Equal Pay: A Conversation Guide, created and supported by American Women, the Rockefeller Family Fund, the Public Interest Projects, The Voter Participation Center, the Center for American Progress Action Fund and the Woodcock Foundation.
Appendix A – Methodology
Seven in-person focus groups were conducted in March 2014 on behalf of American Women, the Rockefeller Family Fund, the Center for American Progress Action, the Voter Participation Center, the Woodcock Foundation and Public Interest Projects. The composition of the groups is below: