NEA Members Rate Vouchers ‘Not Important’

Published September 1, 2001

Although teacher union president Bob Chase delivers an obligatory voucher denunciation in most of his public speeches, a remarkable 61 percent of his members do not consider it important for the union to speak out on the issue of school vouchers, according to a National Education Association membership survey conducted after the November 2000 election.

The survey also showed that NEA members voted for Democratic Congressional candidates over Republican candidates by a margin of almost 2-1, even though only 48 percent identified themselves as Democrats.

Immediately after each two-year election cycle is complete, the NEA commissions a formal survey of its members to discover how they voted and why. The Feldman Group, Inc., a noted Washington, DC public opinion firm, conducted the confidential poll for the most recent election and presented it to NEA officials in December 2000.

Perhaps the most striking response came to a question regarding NEA’s position on certain issues. NEA members were read a list of public education issues “that NEA might address in the coming year.” Each respondent was asked how important it was “for NEA to speak out on that issue.” The question did not ask what position the union should take, but merely if it was important to address the issue.

One of those issues was “Providing private school vouchers to parents whose children attend schools where academic progress is suffering, so parents can send their children to the school of their choice.” The results were remarkable. Only 19 percent said it was “very important” for NEA to address this issue, and 19 percent said it was “somewhat important.” Another 22 percent thought it was “not very important” and a stunning 39 percent said it was “not at all important.”

Of the other nine issues on the list, the next highest figure for “not at all important” was 7 percent, for “testing students every year to measure their progress.”

Union Members Tend to Vote Democrat

Forty-eight percent of NEA members identified themselves as Democrats, 24 percent as Republicans, and 28 percent as independents. Asked to describe their political leanings, 10 percent identified themselves as “very liberal,” 28 percent as “somewhat liberal,” 31 percent as “moderate,” 22 percent as “somewhat conservative,” and 8 percent as “very conservative.”

NEA members supported Al Gore over George W. Bush by a margin of 59 to 34 percent, with an additional 3 percent going to Ralph Nader. This was not appreciably different from 1996, when 62 percent of NEA members voted for Bill Clinton and 31 percent voted for Bob Dole. This is significant only to the extent that Dole was said to have blundered in 1996 by attacking teacher unions in his speech at the Republican National Convention. Bush avoided similar rhetoric in 2000, but that didn’t help him much among NEA members.

Gore ran strongest in the Northeast, picking up 72 percent of the NEA vote there to only 19 percent for Bush. Bush was competitive in the Southwest and Mountain states, picking up 45 percent and 41 percent of the NEA vote there, respectively. Retired NEA members were most supportive of Gore (66 percent), while Gore’s support was weakest among education support personnel (53 percent).

Congressional races were even more lopsided. NEA members voted for Democratic Congressional candidates over Republicans by a margin of 65 percent to 35 percent. Democrats again held their largest margins of victory in the Northeast, winning the NEA vote 81 to 19 percent. In the Mountain states, Republican Congressional candidates actually won the NEA vote, 53 percent to 47 percent.

Union Influence on its Members’ Votes

The Feldman survey also provided important information about how NEA members are responding to the union’s political message.

In general, NEA members adhere to the union’s positions, but there are some areas of contention. For example, a healthy 57 percent of members said they were more likely to vote for a candidate who has been recommended by NEA, but a significant 27 percent said an NEA recommendation made them less likely to vote for that candidate.

Most members acknowledged receiving information about the 2000 elections from NEA. Sixty-two percent of NEA Democrats believe the union presented information on candidates in a fair and balanced way, while only 25 percent of Republicans and 36 percent of independents thought so.

Despite much rhetoric from NEA headquarters about reaching out to Republicans, only 5 percent of members saw the union as less partisan in 2000 compared to past years. Eighteen percent saw NEA as more partisan, and 70 percent thought its partisanship was about the same.

The survey confirms that NEA members agree with much of the union’s public education agenda. We can also safely assume most NEA members oppose school vouchers. What the Feldman survey does tell us, however, is that placed on a list of 10 issues for NEA to address, school vouchers came in last–and by a large margin.

Mike Antonucci is director of The Education Intelligence Agency, an organization that conducts public education research, analysis and investigations. His weekly Communiqué is available at from [email protected].