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American voters will be taking careful stock of Congressional candidates' education platforms this fall, according to the results of a survey conducted last month by a Republican polling firm.

Public Opinion Strategies Inc. of Alexandria, Va., polled 1,000 Americans ages 18 and older on Jan. 29 and 30, following President Bush's State of the Union Address.

The survey found that, on a scale of 1 to 10 (from "not at all important"to "extremely important"), respondents rated a candidate's position on education an 8.7, the highest rating given in 12 platform areas. Education, in fact, scored higher even than a candidate's position on the economy and jobs, health care, crime and drugs, and Social Security and Medicare.

On an open-ended question on the "most important problem facing the United States today," most respondents expressed concern over the recession (28 percent) and unemployment (21 percent). Education (4 percent) tied for fourth place with drugs and poverty/homelessness.

Respondents in their mid-20's through 40's showed the strongest concern for education, the survey found.

The results show that "education is still a source of considerable interest and concern to a large number of key voter groups," said Glen Bolger, a partner in the polling firm. "It is of special interest given that this is a Presidential election year."

While "education is not an issue that by itself can carry a candidate to victory," Mr. Bolger noted, "neither can they afford to ignore it."

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