But overall, this year’s ballot votes aren’t an anomaly. These are all consistently popular policies. A higher minimum wage has enjoyed nearly a quarter-century of going undefeated at the ballot box. Even a near doubling of the federal minimum garners strong support: two-thirds of Americans, including a majority of moderate Republicans, back a $15 minimum wage. Paid family leave is apparently a no-brainer, as more than 80 percent of voters support it, including strong majorities of Republicans.
Even higher taxes, which are supposedly anathema to the American way, fare well in public polls. Americans have long felt that the rich don’t pay enough in taxes, while over the last decade a majority has come around to using higher taxes to redistribute wealth. Promise to put those taxes to use for a specific and popular good, like early education, and you appear to win over even more people.
And yet the federal minimum wage has stayed stuck at $7.25 an hour for over a decade, the longest stretch we’ve ever gone without a raise. The United States is the only developed country that doesn’t guarantee paid family leave. We also devote a much smaller share of our gross domestic product to early education than virtually all other developed countries, while ours is a relatively low tax country.
The public often doesn’t connect policy preferences with politicians. Which party consistently champions a higher minimum wage? Mr. Biden’s. Which works against it and even has some members who have called for the current minimum to be abolished altogether? The other guys.
Mr. Biden also promised paid family leave and higher taxes on the rich to fund benefits for everyone else, positions that have become core Democratic Party planks in recent years. And yet Florida shows that Americans can favor these policies but not necessarily the candidates who promise to act on them.
The disconnect is partly the result of a lack of bold, clear action. Some voters may deliberately favor divided government; others may balk at the idea that Republicans could really oppose something like paid leave. But many more want better pay and benefits, yet don’t believe that Democrats will really deliver them.
Mr. Biden faces myriad devastating problems when he takes office, first among them an uncontrolled pandemic. But he would be smart to prioritize the things voters have just approved for some of his earliest actions. A higher minimum wage, paid family leave and taxing the wealthy to support early education are bread-and-butter policies that address the very real economic problems Americans have long faced and that are even more acute now.