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Poll Results To Terrify The GOP: Swing State Voters Care About Education

April 17, 2012

A newly released survey of swing state voters, commissioned by the College Board, looked at the degree to which they are focusing on the issue of education in this year’s election, what specific aspects of education are most important to them, and how they feel about various education policy proposals. Perhaps surprisingly, education is a top tier issue: with 67% saying education will be extremely important to them in this year’s elections for president and Congress. (This, despite the fact that no candidate(s) has so far spent much time on the subject.)

Those who are most likely to be “education voters” are African Americans (91%), Hispanics (81%), Democrats (79%), and women (75%), especially 18- to 49-year-old women (77%). (Not demographics naturally inclined toward the GOP these days.)

Why this focus on education? Because voters understand that access to quality education at all levels (primary, secondary and post-secondary) is a vital part of getting the economy back on track.

Voters recognize that if the United States puts a higher priority on improving education and making sure students have access to quality education, it would have a big impact on America’s ability to compete successfully in the global economy (77% very/fairly big impact), the likelihood that young people can get good jobs in the future (76%), and making our communities better and safer places to live (75%).

Again, contrary to the thinking of some, swing state voters want to spend more on education, with 78% saying greater funding is necessary. In fact, 55% say they would be willing to pay up to $200 more per year in taxes to achieve this goal. As for priorities in education policy, six goals stand out:

  • Making college affordable for Americans from all walks of life (68% extremely important)
  • Ensuring students graduate from high school rather than dropping out (67%)
  • Improving the quality and performance of public elementary and secondary schools (61%)
  • Ensuring that all students have access to rigorous high school course work (60%)
  • Improving the performance of colleges to ensure graduates have the skills to get good jobs (56%)
  • Providing more adult education and job retraining programs for workers to improve their skills (54%)

The single biggest issue a candidate can embrace for these voters is college affordability. The public seems to long for a return to a time when the U.S. was a world leader in higher education. Proposals toward this end which were viewed most favorably include allowing employers to offer tuition assistance to employees tax free (82%); increasing the amount families can contribute to tax-free college savings accounts (77%); and the DREAM Act (65%).

The good news for Democrats is that they are intrinsically better-positioned to address these concerns. The bad news is that even though they enjoy a substantial edge versus Republicans, they’ve a long way to go to really convince swing state voters that they’re committed to these goals.

  • 44% of voters say that the Democratic Party reflects their priorities on the issue of education very or fairly well, while 31% feel the same way about the Republican Party.
    • Among the crucial bloc of independent voters, 40% feel that the Democratic Party reflects their priorities, while 26% feel that way about the Republican Party.

Not exactly a rousing vote of confidence, but it’s a start.

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