A quarter century after the Family and Medical Leave Act became law, there is remarkable unity among voters that our country’s paid leave policy must be updated and a rock-solid consensus on how a new national paid family and medical leave program should be structured. A national survey, conducted in July by PerryUndem and Bellwether Research & Consulting and released today, finds that four in five voters — including three in five Republicans — support a national paid family and medical leave policy that covers all people who work.
“The only place where there’s still significant disagreement about the best way forward on paid family and medical leave may be Congress and some state legislatures,” said Christine Matthews, president of Bellwether. “The unity we found among voters is remarkable. Republicans as well as Independents and Democrats, older as well as younger voters, and those in every region and at every income level support a national paid leave program that is comprehensive, affordable and provides leave to care for new babies and newly adopted children, to recover from personal serious illness or injury, to care for a family member who is ill, injured or disabled, and for reasons related to military service.”
“On this issue, voters know what they need and are very clear about which solution they support,” said PerryUndem Partner Mike Perry. “We gauged reaction to four paid leave programs and the one that garnered by far the most voter support is based on the Family And Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act, sponsored by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.). The least popular is a Social Security parental leave program, like the one Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) introduced last week and that Rep. Ann Wagner (R-Mo.) plans to introduce in September. Politicians who oppose a national paid family and medical leave program or try to peddle half-measures, inadequate solutions or plans that force trade-offs between parental leave and Social Security are out-of-step with voters. It’s not often that we see such a broad, deep consensus.”
According to the new survey:
- Two-thirds of voters (66 percent) say they would face serious hardship if they had to take up to a few months of unpaid leave.
- Fully 84 percent of voters support a comprehensive national paid family and medical leave policy that covers all people who work. That consensus includes 94 percent of Democrats, 83 percent of Independents and 74 percent of Republicans, as well as overwhelming majorities of voters of all ages and races, in all regions and at all income levels.
- More than half of voters (53 percent) — and 72 percent of those age 18-44 — think a national paid family and medical leave policy could help them, now or in the future.
- The funding option for a paid leave program that voters support more than any other is sharing the cost between employers and employees. It is the top choice for voters of all parties and is even more popular among Republicans than Democrats and Independents. This is how the FAMILY Act would fund a national paid leave plan. Asked in a separate question how much they would be willing to contribute to a national paid leave fund, seven in 10 employed voters said they would support deductions that far exceed the amount the FAMILY Act would require.
- A mere 3 percent of voters support funding paid leave by allowing leave-takers to draw early from Social Security — and this low level of support is consistent across party lines (just 1 percent of Democrats, 5 percent of independents and 2 percent of Republicans support this approach).
- Eight in 10 voters say it is important that a national paid family and medical leave policy covers self-employed, freelance and contract workers. An equal share say it is important that a national paid leave policy be available and affordable for higher-, middle- and lower-wage workers.
- Seven in 10 voters — including a majority of Republicans — say they are more likely to vote for a congressional candidate this year who supports a national paid family and medical leave policy.
“In our country today, more than 100 million people do not have paid leave through their jobs — and voters are looking to lawmakers for change,” said Debra L. Ness, president of the National Partnership for Women & Families, which commissioned the national survey. “These aren’t meaningless statistics or perplexing public policies. This is about mothers forced to go back to work so quickly after childbirth that they’re still in pain, as well as moms who miss their baby’s first smile or struggle to breastfeed. It’s about sons who can’t afford to take time off to help a parent get to chemo or physical therapy appointments. It’s about friends and neighbors forced to work while a spouse struggles to recover from an injury sustained in military service. Voters know the harm this causes families, communities, businesses and our economy. They know it’s time for change.”
“But not just any paid leave plan will do,” added National Partnership Vice President for Workplace Policies and Strategies Vicki Shabo. “Voters want a paid leave program that fills important gaps so that they can help keep their families financially secure. They see this policy as pro-family. A parents-only paid leave program that excludes leave for family care and personal medical needs, and forces parents to choose between paid leave and retirement security, is not what voters want or the country needs. Three-quarters of people who use the Family and Medical Leave Act do so to care for a seriously ill loved one, their own serious health issue or for military care. A parental leave only plan would leave millions of people behind — and imposing a Social Security penalty for taking paid leave is reckless and unnecessary. Voters support a comprehensive national plan. The FAMILY Act is a modest, reasonable approach that has been proven successful in the states — and these new results show that it’s the approach voters support most. There’s simply no good reason for Congress to delay.”
The survey was conducted from July 9-23, 2018 using NORC’s AmeriSpeak nationally representative panel. Its margin of sampling error is +/- 4.3 percent. The non-partisan firm, PerryUndem, and the Republican firm, Bellwether Research & Consulting, developed the survey and conducted the analysis. The findings from this research are consistent with eight focus groups in four locations among conservative and independent voters conducted by PerryUndem and Bellwether for the National Partnership last fall.