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Education-Oriented Voters: Summary of Findings
Washington Post/Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation/Harvard University
Issues Project: Education and the Schools

Analysis by Robert J. Blendon, Professor of Health Policy and Political Analysis at the School of Public Health and the John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, and John Benson, Deputy Director of the Harvard Opinion Research Program at the School of Public Health, Harvard University

  1. WHO ARE EDUCATION-ORIENTED VOTERS?
    • 38% of registered voters say education will be one of the two most important issues in deciding their vote for president.The issue ranked with Health care and Medicare (41%) as the top voting concerns. (Q3)
    • Only 3% of registered voters are single-issue education voters, i.e., they say that education is one of the top two issues and that they would vote against a candidate who takes stands on the issue that differ from their own on basis of that issue alone (Q4).
    • Education-oriented voters are primarily upscale women: 61% are women, 52% have household incomes over $50,000 a year.
    • Most education-oriented voters (59%) do not currently have children in the grades K-12, so they are not directly self-interested voters.
    • One if four (24%) have a household member who is a teacher.
    • 71% of education-oriented voters are under age 50, compared with 58% of total registered voters.
    • 79% of education-oriented voters are white, 12% African-American, about the same as registered voters as a whole.
    • In terms of party identification, 38% of education-oriented voters are Democrats, 25% Republicans, 28% Independents.
    • In a presidential trial heat, Gore leads Bush (50% to 40%, including leaners) among education-oriented voters.

  2. UNDERLYING BELIEFS OF EDUCATION-ORIENTED VOTERS
    • A majority (65%) of education-oriented voters think that private schools nationally provide a better education than public schools (Q24).
    • A substantial minority (45%) of education-oriented voters who are public school parents say they would move their child to a private or religious school if they could afford to do it (Q37).
    • About half (53%) of education-oriented voters say they would like to see religious and spiritual values have more influence in the schools than they do now; 14% say less influence, and 32% about the same (Q45).
    • Education-oriented voters give President Clinton higher marks (57% excellent or good) than their own states' governors (48%) in handling the issue of education and schools (Q6).

  3. WHICH CANDIDATE IS BETTER ON EDUCATION?
    • More education-oriented voters trust Gore (48%) than Bush (35%) to do a better job improving education and the schools. This is different from the views of registered voters as a whole, where Bush is more trusted by 42%, Gore by 40% (Q7).
    • Education-oriented voters differentiate the two candidates on differ aspects of improving the schools (Q26).
      • Gore is seen as doing a better job improving the schools that serve poor and disadvantaged neighborhoods (59% to 28% for Bush) and providing adequate federal funds to improve public schools (55% to 32%).
      • Bush is seen as doing a better job holding schools accountable for seeing that their students meet a certain standard before they move to the next grade or graduate (43% to 37% for Gore).
      • On two other aspects, the candidates are rated about evenly: addressing the problem of school violence (Gore 42%, Bush 38%) and promoting school programs that develop good character and strong moral values (41% each).

  4. KNOWLEDGE
    • Many education-oriented voters are not very knowledgeable about key issues in the debate.
    • About two-thirds do not know that the federal government contributes less than one-quarter of the funding for the nation's public schools (65%) and that Bush is the presidential candidate who favors school vouchers (69%) (Q12, Q38a).
    • About half of education-oriented voters say they are not sure what the terms "school voucher" (44%) and "charter school" (47%) mean (Q13, Q15).
    • Most education-oriented voters (85%) do know that $1500 would not cover the full cost of attending most private schools (Q36). [According to the Digest of Education Statistics, 1999, average full tuition for private schools was $3,116 when last measured in 1993-1994.]

  5. POLICY CHOICES
    • Majorities of education-oriented voters support almost all of the options presented for trying to improve education and the schools.
    • The one option opposed by a strong majority (68%) of education-oriented voters is reducing federal education funding to states where the academic performance of public school students is low and has not improved in five years (29% favor) (Q39a).
    • Education-oriented voters are split on school vouchers as a way to deal with failing schools, with 50% in favor, 48% opposed. Support for vouchers drops sharply (to 15%) if the money for the vouchers came directly from the budget of the failing school, meaning there might be less money and the school could get even worse (Q28b, Q29).
    • The two options favored by the largest majorities (82% each) of education-oriented voters are giving state and local governments more say in how to spend federal education money and increasing federal spending on new school construction and modernization (Q39c, Q39e).
    • 72% of education-oriented voters favor charter schools. However, it should be remembered that nearly half of education-oriented voters said earlier that they were not sure what the term "charter school" meant (Q43, Q15).
    • Two-thirds (67%) of education-oriented voters favor a program that would direct local school officials to shut down a failing school and reopen it after the principle was replaced and poor-quality teachers had been identified and removed. However, support dropped to 44% if such a program might be disruptive to students and end up taking a long time to improve education at the school (Q31, Q32).
    • About half (53%) of education-oriented voters would like to see religious and spiritual values have more influence in the schools; 14% want less and 32% about the same amount of religious influence (Q45).

  6. DIFFERENCES BETWEEN BUSH AND GORE EDUCATION-ORIENTED VOTERS
    • The differences between Bush and Gore education-oriented voters (including leaners) mostly mirror differences between Republican and Democratic voters of that group.
    • Bush education-oriented voters are more likely than their Gore counterparts to favor:
      • providing parents with more alternatives such as private or charter schools if they don't want to send their child to traditional public schools (76% of Bush to 55% of Gore)
      • a constitutional amendment to allow organized prayer in public schools (68% to 51%)
      • school vouchers as a way to deal with failing schools (60% to 44%) (When asked if they would still support vouchers if the money came from the budget of the failing school, 22% of Bush vs. 11% of Gore education-oriented voters said yes.)
      • religious and spiritual values having more influence in the schools (66% to 42%)
    • Bush education-oriented voters are more likely to favor strongly giving state and local governments more say in how to spend federal education money (60% to 47%) (Q39c).
    • Bush education-oriented voters are less likely (28% to 51%) than their Gore counterparts to say that increasing funding for public schools is the most important thing the federal government could do to improve education (Q23).

Table 1: WHO ARE EDUCATION-ORIENTED VOTERS?
%s read down
* = statistically significant difference
 
Total Registered Voters
Education Orientated Voters
Non-Education Orientation Voters
By gender 
          Men
47
39
53*
          Women
53
61*
47
By race 
          White
82
79
83
          Black
11
12
10
By age 
          18-29
15
22*
11
          30-49
43
49*
39
          50-64
22
18
25*
          65+
20
12
24*
By household income 
          < $20K
12
11
13
          $20-29.9K
12
11
13
          $30-49.9K
13
11
14
          $50-74.9K
23
24
22
          75K+
24
28*
22
By education 
          < HS grad
11
9
12
          HS grad
33
28
35*
          Some College
22
22
21
          College Grad+
35
40*
31
By kids in K-12 
          Yes
31
41*
26
By teacher in household 
          Yes
22
24
21
By party ID 
          Democrat
35
38
33
          Republican
29
25
32*
          Independent
27
28
27
By trial heat, incl. leaners 
          Bush
49
40
54*
          Gore
41
50*
35
By candidate trust more on education 
          Bush
42
35
46*
          Gore
40
48*
35

Table 2: WHICH CANDIDATE IS BETTER ON EDUCATION?
Views of education-oriented voters

 
Bush
Gore
Gore Lead 
          Trust to do a better job improving education and the schools
35
48
          Would do better job improving the schools that serve poor and disadvantaged neighborhoods
28
59
          Would do better job providing adequate federal funds to improve public schools
32
55
Bush Lead 
          Would do a better job holding schools accountable for seeing that their students meet a certain standard before they move to the next grade or graduate
43
37
Gore and Bush About Even 
          Would do a better job addressing the problem of school violence
38
42
          Would do a better job promoting school programs that develop good character and strong moral values
41
41

Table 3: POLICY CHOICES OF EDUCATION-ORIENTED VOTERS
 
Favor
Oppose
Don't know
•Give state and local governments more say in how to spend federal education money
82
16
2
•Increase federal spending on new school construction and modernization
82
16
1
•Charter schools
72
23
5
•Increase federal funding to states so that all 4-year olds may attend preschool
71
28
1
•Direct local school officials to shut down a failing school and reopen it after the principal is replaced, poor quality teachers are identified and removed (Students would receive special help)
67
30
3
          Even if it might be disruptive to students and end up taking a long time to improve education at the school
44
50
6
•Provide parents with more alternatives such as private or charter schools if they don't want to send their child to a traditional public school
63
34
3
•Constitutional amendment to allow organized prayer in the public schools
59
39
2
•Provide parents of a child in a failing public school with $1500 federal voucher they could use to send their child to another school (private school or another school outside the district)
50
48
2
          Even if the $1500 came directly from the budget of the failing school, meaning there might be less money and school could get even worse
15
81
4
•Reduce federal education funding to states where the academic performance of public school students is low and has not improved in five years
29
68
3
 
More
Same
Less
Don't know
Would rather see religious and spiritual values have (more/less/about the same) influence in the schools
53
32
14
1

Table 4: DIFFERENCES BETWEEN BUSH AND GORE EDUCATION-ORIENTED VOTERS
(including leaners)

 
Bush voters (n=235)
Gore voters (n=303)
•Provide parents with more alternatives such as private or charter schools if they don't want to send their child to a traditional public school (% favor)
76
55
•Constitutional amendment to allow organized prayer in the public schools (% favor)
68
51
•Provide parents of a child in a failing public school with $1500 federal voucher they could use to send their child to another school (private school or another school outside the district) (% favor)
60
44
          Even if the $1500 came directly from the budget of the failing school, meaning there might be less money and school could get even worse
22
11
•Want religious and spiritual values to have more influence in the schools
66
42
•Give state and local governments more say in how to spend federal education money (% favor strongly)
60
47
•Increasing funding for public schools is the most important thing the federal government could do to improve education
28
51

Table 5: DIFFERENCES BETWEEN EDUCATION-ORIENTED VOTERS BY PARTY IDENTIFICATION
 
Republican (n=149)
Democrat (n=234)
Don't know (n=170)
•Provide parents with more alternatives such as private or charter schools if they don't want to send their child to a traditional public school (% favor)
72
60
60
•Constitutional amendment to allow organized prayer in the public schools (% favor)
71
57
53
•Provide parents of a child in a failing public school with $1500 federal voucher they could use to send their child to another school (private school or another school outside the district) (% favor)
51
48
52
          Even if the $1500 came directly from the budget of the failing school, meaning there might be less money and school could get even worse
18
13
14
•Want religious and spiritual values to have more influence in the schools
68
49
48
•Give state and local governments more say in how to spend federal education money (% favor strongly)
68
40
61
•Increasing funding for public schools is the most important thing the federal government could do to improve education
27
49
37

Source: Washington Post/Kaiser Family Foundation/Harvard University Education Survey, May 2000.

© Copyright 2000 The Washington Post Company


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