From New York to California, Americans Support Vouchers

Published August 1, 2000

According to University of Rochester economist Eric Hanushek, vouchers would “allow parents to vote on performance by choosing schools.” A recent New York Times/CBS News poll of New York state residents shows that a majority of parents –including Democrats–are ready and willing to do just that.

Overall, 52 percent of the new poll’s respondents said parents should be allowed to use tax-supported vouchers for their children to attend secular or religious private schools. Forty percent disagreed.

While there was strong support among Republicans, who favored vouchers by a 60-34 percent ratio, Democrats also were clearly on the side of school choice, favoring vouchers by 51-40 margin. Hispanics and African-Americans favored publicly financed school choice by nearly a two-to-one margin, with ratios of 63-29 and 61-31 percent respectively. White support was more modest, at 50-42. New York City residents showed a strong preference for vouchers by a 56-36 margin.

Across the country in California, Silicon Valley entrepreneur Tim Draper has placed the school choice issue squarely in the middle of this year’s election campaign by qualifying a school voucher issue for the November ballot. The teacher union doesn’t want the initiative on the ballot, many politicians don’t want it on the ballot, and even some school choice advocates aren’t sure that it’s the right time or right proposal. Nevertheless, a 1999 Los Angeles Times poll indicates California voters are ready for vouchers.

In June of last year, the newspaper polled 1,179 registered voters in California and found support for vouchers outstripped opposition in all but one group of voters: Democrats. While overall support for vouchers was 51 percent for and 41 percent against, support was highest among Republicans, with 65 percent for and only 26 percent against. Independents favored vouchers by a margin of 53-36, with Democrats 40 percent for and 53 percent against.

The poll also revealed some surprising features of voucher supporters, at least in light of the way they frequently are characterized by opponents. For example, voucher foes often assert school choice simply is a ruse by the rich to subsidize their preference for private schools, but in fact voters earning over $60,000 a year were closest to Democrats, with a 50-43 margin of support for vouchers. On the other hand, voters making less than $20,000 a year were closest to Republicans, with a strong 58-35 margin of support for vouchers.

Democrats Favor Private Schools

A recent Reuters/Zogby poll of 1,217 adults nationwide revealed some surprising preferences for public vs. private schools. More Democrats (43.1 percent) favored private schools than Republicans (34.2 percent), and more Republicans (43.4 percent) favored public schools than Democrats (28.4 percent). Overall, slightly more respondents (35.6 percent) favored private schools over public schools (35.1 percent), with the remaining 26.1 percent having no preference.

The actual question that the May Zogby America poll asked was: All things being equal, would you rather send your children to a private school or a public school or does it matter?”

Another Reuters/Zogby poll released in early June showed education is the issue that most concerns Americans, with 15 percent of the 1,002 adults surveyed saying education is the top issue in the nation today; 14.5 percent saying the top issue is the economy/jobs/taxes. While education was the leading issue among Democrats (18.1 percent) and city dwellers (17.5 percent), the economy/jobs/taxes was the top issue among Republicans (16.4 percent) and residents of rural areas (16.4 percent).