Poll: 70 percent of voters support federal preschool expansion

Seven in 10 voters, including six in 10 Republicans, support a plan for the federal government to expand quality early childhood programs for low- and middle-income families, according to a national poll sponsored by the First Five Years Fund, an advocacy group.

The bipartisan support was underscored by two prominent political strategists from both major parties during an event Thursday at the National Press Club.

“This is an issue that has calcified in many people’s minds as something that’s important,” said Kevin Madden, a Republican political campaign strategist and former press secretary for Mitt Romney’s 2008 presidential campaign. “Voters believe this is a critical investment at a critical time.”

Jim Messina, who managed President Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign, agreed: “There is a national consensus around this issue except in the 10-mile square, logic-free zone that we call Washington, D.C.,” he said.

State governors and mayors from both political parties have made strides in expanding preschool in recent years, but Obama’s proposal to increase federal funding to help states improve access to preschool has stalled in Congress, floundering amid a pervasive deadlock in the legislature.

Both political strategists agreed that the strong support for early childhood investment is a reflection of the deep anxiety people are feeling about the economy and the future direction of the country. They said that given the widespread support among voters, early childhood education is likely to continue to be part of candidates’ platforms in the 2014 midterm elections and the 2016 presidential race.

The survey of 800 registered voters across the country was conducted in late May by Hart Research Associates and Public Opinion Strategies. Here are some other highlights:

  • On a list of national priorities, voters ranked “ensuring children get a strong start” second only to “increasing jobs and economic growth” and above “improving the quality of our public schools” and “reducing the tax burden on families.”
  • Sixty percent of Republicans and 84 percent of Democrats supported a description of the proposal under consideration by Congress to “provide ten billion dollars per year for ten years in grants to states to provide all low and moderate income four year olds with voluntary access to high-quality preschool programs” as well as to fund “voluntary  high quality early education and child care for infants and toddlers, as well as home visiting and parent education.”
  • Key groups of swing voters also supported the proposal, including 80 percent of Hispanics, 75 percent of moderates and 72 percent of suburban women.

National Poll conducted by First Five Years Fund by Hart Research Associates and Public Opinion Strategies. (Courtesy of First Five Years Fund)
Michael Alison Chandler writes about schools and families in the Washington region.
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