Why Would One of the Most Progressive Cities in the Country Vote Against Raising the Minimum Wage?

No on Question 1

The answer? Everything had to line up perfectly for the “No” campaign.

Placed on the ballot was Question 1, which would have raised the City’s standard minimum wage for workers to $15 per hour. Across the country, there has been a movement to increase the minimum wage to $15 for all workers, like in San Francisco, and for specific types of workers, like in Massachusetts and New York City. Portland being a progressive city, one would assume the voters would have voted for the increase. But Portland is also home to pragmatic progressives.

There were numerous circumstances that led to Question 1 being defeated. The Mayor and City Council had just increased the minimum wage to $10.10 and there will be a $12.65 minimum wage on the statewide ballot in 2016. These two factors were considered during the discussion of a $15 minimum wage, as were two other significant factors: Portland does not have any large big box stores, and its economy does not match that of San Francisco; the median household income in San Francisco is $104,879. Portland, Maine? Only $59,573.

Dedication to supporting local businesses is a major part of the Portland community and culture. The purpose behind the measure was to make large corporations accountable for providing their workers with a living wage because they can afford to do so. The reality is, if $15 passed, it would have had the opposite effect. The small businesses would have been forced out and the large corporations, who could absorb the labor costs, would move in to take their place, overtime changing Portland’s cherished complexion.

It was the small businesses who delivered the message that Portland voters needed to hear: the City had just raised the minimum wage; it shouldn’t be an extreme outlier compared to the rest of the state; and with this increase came the real threat that large chain stores would eventually replace small businesses within the City limits. In the end, the pragmatic progressive city of Portland voted 58% to 42% to defeat the increase, demonstrating the true pragmatism of the voters could be tapped into with strategic messaging and identification of the right messengers…and a multitude of external forces that needed to align to create the correct climate for voters to vote no.