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How Does the ‘Trump Effect’ Change the Public’s View of Education?

By Andrew Ujifusa — August 15, 2017 | Updated: July 17, 2023 2 min read
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Updated: A previous version of this page included an embedded file, which has since been removed.

If you’re looking for someone to polarize debates about education policy, look no further than President Donald Trump.

That’s according to an opinion survey published Tuesday by Education Next, a K-12 policy journal. People’s views of charter schools, tax-credit scholarships, the Common Core State Standards, and teacher merit pay was sharply affected in several instances when they were told where Trump stands on them. However, even though Trump might be more polarizing on education than President Barack Obama was at the same point in their presidencies, Trump’s net impact on public opinion on these hot-button issues might also pretty much zero, according to the survey.

For more on the poll’s results, including an apparent drop in support for charter schools, check out our colleague Arianna Prothero’s story here.

The survey found that Republicans who were asked about four key policy issues, and then told of Trump’s opinion about them, moved closer to Trump’s view on three of those four issues. Specifically, there was a 15 percentage-point increase in support for charter schools among those identifying with the GOP when told of the president’s support for charters, and a 10 percentage-point bump in support for tax-credit scholarships. Meanwhile, support for the common core dropped by 5 percentage points when Republicans were told of Trump’s opposition to the standards.

Conversely, Democrats were less likely to support two of those four policies when informed of Trump’s opinion. The biggest drop in support among Democrats when informed of Trump’s views, 14 percentage points, was for his support of teacher merit pay. Support among Democrats for tax-credit scholarships also dropped by 7 percentage points when they were told that the president backed them.

Ultimately, the impact of Trump’s positions on the public’s opinion was basically nil when these disparate reactions were taken into account, according to a poll analysis by Samuel Barrows, Michael B. Henderson, Paul G. Peterson, and Martin R. West for Education Next. The impact of Obama’s views in 2009 on the public’s opinion was more pronounced, and more in his favor. However, the “honeymoon” period for Obama didn’t last long. This chart shows the numbers behind that:

On the campaign trail, Trump didn’t spend a lot of time talking about education, but he did pitch a $20 billion federal investment in public and private K-12 choice before he won the presidential election. U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, a long-time advocate for choice, has backed using $1 billion in federal aid for public school choice, as well as a $250 million private school choice program—but so far she hasn’t gotten support for those ideas from Congress. (Incidentally, although Trump supports school choice broadly, it is unclear if he will push tax credits in any tax reform package, or if Congress will be interested in that idea.)

“Although a president, during his honeymoon period, may shift overall public opinion in his preferred direction, that accomplishment is difficult to sustain over time,” the Education Next authors state. “Further, Trump has had a polarizing effect from the very beginning of his term in office.”

Education Next is published by the right-leaning Hoover Institution at Stanford University. The annual EdNext opinion poll on school reform surveyed 4,200 respondents, and oversample teachers and parents.

Photo: President Donald Trump speaks to Congress in February. (Jim Lo Scalzo/AP)