Poll: Education a High Voter Priority Neglected by Presidential Candidates

Published December 28, 2015

Recent polling conducted by Public Opinion Strategies indicates most registered voters in U.S. swing states think education should be a top priority for the next president.

Sixty-eight percent of voters surveyed reported education is a more important policy issue than immigration or health care, and only 36 percent said they have heard the current field of presidential candidates discuss education policy.

Communities in Schools, a national nonprofit organization dedicated to curtailing student dropouts, commissioned the poll, which surveyed 1,200 voters in Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, and Virginia between October 7 and November 2. The poll has a 2.8 percent margin of error.

“For sure, national security and the economy are at the top of the list for conservative voters to date, and the GOP presidential candidates and the media are responding to those concerns,” said Deneen Borelli, chief political correspondent for the Conservative Review website. “As the field whittles down, education will become an important issue to distinguish the candidates, especially as it relates to Common Core.”

‘A State and Local Issue’

Improving K–12 education ranks fourth on the list of voter concerns, according to the poll. The top three priorities are improving the economy and creating jobs (90 percent); reducing the national debt (76 percent); and holding down national spending (75 percent). Other issues most voters identified as important include reforming Social Security and Medicare (67 percent); fixing immigration and border security (66 percent); fixing the Affordable Care Act (64 percent); improving higher education (61 percent); and cutting federal taxes (56 percent).

Kansas Policy Institute President Dave Trabert says the 36 percent of polled voters who said they have not heard candidates discuss education policy could be due to Republican contenders’ belief education should remain an issue states and local governments are responsible for.

“Education shouldn’t be an issue for candidates for national office,” Trabert said. “Considering the dismal performances of students educated under such federal programs as Common Core and No Child Left Behind, the last thing we need is another top-down, national education initiative.”

William Mattox, director of the Center for Educational Options at the James Madison Institute, says some presidential candidates have highlighted education policy.

“Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush has pointed to his remarkable success in pioneering school choice programs as evidence that ‘Jeb can fix it,'” said Mattox. “And prior to his departure from the race, Gov. Bobby Jindal sought to build GOP grassroots support by citing his impressive record promoting school choice and course access in Louisiana. Still, given the understandable wariness that most Republican primary voters have about the federal government’s role in education, it’s not altogether surprising that other issues have had greater salience in the 2016 GOP presidential nominee race up to now.

“Personally, I’d welcome a little more attention to presidential candidates’ views on education policy,” Mattox said. “With a recent Friedman Foundation poll showing that Hispanic voters care more about expanding educational options than they do about immigration, it’d be nice to see more presidential candidates using their bully pulpit to promote school choice.”

Strong Support for ESAs, Vouchers

Kyle Olson, president the Education Action Group, says the federal government’s role in education should be minimal. Olson notes a poll conducted in summer 2015 by the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice concluded education is the second issue of importance listed by school parents surveyed. Olson says the number one issue is improving the economy and jobs.

“Less than half of the Friedman survey respondents replied they thought K–12 education in the United States was on the right track,” Olson said. “Only 39 percent said they’re optimistic about how our nation educates its children.

“Among Republicans, 68 percent said they’re unhappy with our country’s public education; 67 percent favored education savings accounts; and 63 percent indicated they strongly support vouchers,” said Olson.

Bruce Edward Walker ([email protected]) is a policy analyst for The Heartland Institute.

Image by Michael Vadon. 

Internet Info:

Carolyn Phenicie, “New Poll Shows Majority of Voters List Schools As Big 2016 Issue, But 2/3 Haven’t Heard Peep From Politicians,” The Seventy Four, November 11, 2015:  https://www.the74million.org/article/new-poll-most-voters-see-schools-as-top-election-issue-but-two-thirds-say-candidates-arent-discussing