National Poll Shows a Majority For Vouchers

Published November 1, 2000

“Do you agree or disagree that government vouchers used at a private school run by a religious organization violate the separation of church and state?”

When pollsters from Zogby American Values recently posed this question to 1,028 likely voters nationwide, 51.9 percent said they did not see vouchers as presenting a constitutional problem. Some 43.6 percent did view vouchers as violating church-state separation. The remaining 4.5 percent were unsure.

Among Republicans, almost two-thirds had no problem with the use of vouchers at religious schools, while just over half (50.8 percent) of Democrats did. Among Catholic and Protestants, a majority did not see vouchers as a violation of the constitutionally required separation of church and state.

. . . But Attacks Lower Support in Michigan and California

Although a September nationwide Zogby poll shows that a majority of likely voters support vouchers, voter confusion over the pros and cons of specific voucher proposals on the November ballot appears to have lowered support for them among likely voters in California and Michigan, according to recent polls.

In Michigan, a Detroit Free Press poll conducted in late September by EPIC/MRA showed that support for the Proposal 1 voucher initiative among 600 likely voters statewide was 37 percent in favor and 41 percent against, with 22 percent undecided. Polls taken earlier this year had shown the proposal ahead by as much as 10 percentage points. Nevertheless, the Proposal garners substantial support in Detroit (48 percent) and is still ahead in the Detroit three-county metropolitan area.

Proposal 1 has three components: a minimum funding guarantee for public schools; required teacher testing; and an amendment to the Michigan constitution to provide $3,000 vouchers to students in schools that fail to graduate at least two-thirds of their students.

One interpretation of this lowered level of support is that voters are becoming confused because they’re getting mixed messages about the voucher proposal, Ed Sarpolus of EPIC/MRA told the Detroit Free Press.

In California, two recent polls indicate that opposition to the Proposition 38 voucher initiative has risen above the 50 percent mark. A San Francisco Examiner/KTVU poll conducted by Research 2000 among 820 registered Californians in late September found the voucher proposal opposed by 51 percent of likely voters, with 35 percent in support and 14 percent undecided.

Proposition 38 would guarantee that per-pupil funding for the state’s public schools would be at the national average and also would provide a $4,000 voucher for any student to attend a nonpublic school, with support for students already in private schools phased in over four years.

The measure is supported by Silicon Valley venture capitalist Tim Draper, who believes vouchers should be universal out of fairness; denigrated by purist school choice activists who believe vouchers should go only to low-income families; and vehemently opposed by the state and national teacher unions who believe every tax dollar raised for education should go only to public schools.

“My feeling is also that [the voucher issue] is being defined by opponents as something that helps the already well off and that it’s an infringement of church and state,” Research 2000 pollster Del Ali told the San Francisco Examiner. “The proponents haven’t done a good job of framing it,” he added, noting, “people still see vouchers as a dirty word.”

Another poll, conducted in mid-September by the Public Policy Institute of California, reported findings similar to the Examiner/KTVU poll, with 37 percent of likely voters supporting the voucher initiative and 53 percent opposing it. A poll conducted by the Institute in August showed 45 percent in support and 44 percent opposed.