By Lisa Baertlein
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - While the U.S. restaurant industry fights national and state efforts to increase the minimum wage, a new survey released on Tuesday showed that 83 percent of restaurant patrons support raising it and adjusting it annually for inflation.
The results come as two years of union-backed protests by fast-food workers have put a spotlight on the plight of the working poor and helped fuel a debate about the federal minimum wage, which has been $7.25 since 2009.
"Consumers clearly believe the economic benefits of a minimum wage increase far outweigh the negatives," said Bob Goldin, an executive vice president at Technomic, which recently conducted the online survey of 1,000 restaurant goers.
"Restaurants and other industries have to recognize the consumer groundswell that exists with respect to this matter and, in many cases, be prepared for increased labor costs," Goldin added.
The Technomic survey showed broad backing across age groups and political orientations, including 93 percent of self-described liberals, 87 percent of moderates and 70 percent of conservatives.
Twelve percent of survey participants said they were business owners, Goldin said. The vast majority in that group, 90 percent, supported raising the minimum wage and indexing it to inflation, he said.
Backers said they believed a higher minimum wage would stimulate the economy, lift people out of poverty, help the middle class, decrease labor turnover and reduce government spending.
The National Restaurant Association and the International Franchise Association, which both represent fast-food giant McDonald's Corp and other restaurant companies, have been vocal opponents of efforts to raise the minimum wage.
McDonald's did not directly lobby on the minimum wage issue, according to a Reuters review of lobbying reports from the last six quarters. Nevertheless, the company this year has paid a Washington, D.C., firm to do so.
Opponents warn that raising the minimum wage will result in higher costs for burgers, fries and other foods, make it harder for restaurant operators to survive and put jobs at risk.
That message resonated with a majority of survey respondents. Just 44 percent of the people who support a higher wage said it would have a positive impact on the restaurant business.
Since last year, some 13 states and six cities, largely controlled by Democrats, have raised their own minimum wages. In Seattle, the minimum wage will gradually rise to $15 an hour by 2021, the nation's highest rate.
The Technomic survey had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.
(Reporting by Lisa Baertlein in Los Angeles; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)