National Study Raises Question of Bias in Annual Phi Delta Kappa Poll

Published August 19, 2004

INDIANAPOLIS – Negative wording can dramatically influence public response to school vouchers, while neutral questioning elicits support from six of 10 Americans, concludes a national study conducted by leading research firm Wirthlin Worldwide.

“Parents want the freedom to choose a school based on its quality, not their address,” said Robert Enlow, executive director of the Milton and Rose D. Friedman Foundation. “This study reflects the support the Foundation encounters everyday across the country – parents want choice. They want an education that works for their child, regardless of whether the school is public or private. Unfortunately, well-funded groups that advocate only for government schools distort the views of the majority.”

The study, sponsored by the Friedman Foundation, set out to determine, using a sound methodology of split sampling, if the annual Phi Delta Kappa poll, to be released August 24, used wording that could artificially lower support for school choice.

Half of the sample was asked the more negative PDK question, “do you favor or oppose allowing students and parents to choose a private school to attend at public expense?” Only 41 percent supported school vouchers when the question was presented this way.

The other half of the sample was asked the more neutral question, “do you favor or oppose allowing students and parents to choose any school, public or private, to attend using public funds?” The support was significantly higher, with 63 percent supporting school vouchers.

“These results demonstrate the powerful difference a few words can make when measuring public opinion,” said Dee Alsop, Wirthlin Worldwide chairman and CEO. “Americans are less likely to support school choice when more prejudiced wording such as ‘public expense’ is used and it is implied that such funds would be used for ‘private schools’ only. Using more neutral descriptions reveals the overwhelming public support for school choice options that exists in America.”

Other findings include:

  • Most Americans (64 percent) support using tax dollars already allocated to a school district for education to help parents pay for the school of their choice.
  • About 60 percent of Americans would be more likely to vote for a candidate supporting school choice than for one who does not.
  • Both Republicans (68 percent) and Democrats (54 percent) would be more likely to vote for a candidate supporting school choice.
  • Nearly 70 percent of African-American Democrats surveyed would be more likely to vote for a candidate supporting school choice.
  • Support for school choice among all African-Americans surveyed reaches 80 percent.
  • Even childless taxpayers support school choice. The majority of parents (65 percent) and non-parents (64 percent) favor using tax dollars to send a child to a school of their choice, whether that school is public, private, or religious.

Findings for the study were compiled from a telephone survey of 1,001 adult Americans between August 6-9. Margin of error is +/- 3.1 percent.

For full results of the study, go to

About the Milton and Rose D. Friedman Foundation ( The Milton and Rose D. Friedman Foundation, dubbed “the nation’s leading voucher advocates” by the Wall Street Journal, is a nonprofit organization established in 1996. The origins of the foundation lie in the Friedmans’ long-standing concern about the serious deficiencies in America’s elementary and secondary public schools. The best way to improve the quality of education, they believe, is to enable all parents to have a truly free choice of the schools their children attend. The Friedman Foundation works to build upon this vision, clarify its meaning to the general public, and amplify the national call for true education reform through school choice.

About Wirthlin Worldwide ( Wirthlin Worldwide, founded in 1964, is a full-service opinion research firm that provides strategic research for a broad range of public- and private-sector clients, including two-thirds of the Fortune 100 companies.