Federal

Poll Gives Obama Edge on Improving Schools

By Alyson Klein — August 20, 2008 4 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

A greater proportion of Americans think that Sen. Barack Obama would be more likely than Sen. John McCain to improve public schools as president, according to a poll being released today.

The survey, conducted by Phi Delta Kappa International and the Gallup Organization, reports that 46 percent of respondents viewed Sen. Obama as the candidate for the White House better able to strengthen public education, compared with 29 percent for Sen. McCain. Twenty-five percent of respondents said they didn’t know which candidate would be better able to handle school policy.

The poll, released annually by PDK, a professional society for educators based in Bloomington, Ind., and Princeton, N.J.-based Gallup, was conducted from June 14 to July 3, using a national sample of 1,002 adults aged 18 and older. It had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

The survey also showed that only a small proportion of Americans—16 percent—want to see the No Child Left Behind Act, the main federal K-12 education law whose reauthorization is pending in Congress, renewed without major changes. Thirty-one percent of respondents identifying themselves as Republicans and 50 percent of Democrats said would like to see the law extended, but changed significantly.

And 25 percent of Democratic respondents said they would like to see the law scrapped entirely, compared with 27 percent of Republicans.

The results on which party’s nominee would be better for public schools represent a significant shift from 2004, when that election’s Democratic presidential nominee, Sen. John F. Kerry of Massachusetts, was viewed as equally supportive of public education as President Bush, with each receiving the confidence of 41 percent of respondents on the issue. In 2000, respondents gave then-Texas Gov. Bush a slight edge over Vice President Al Gore on public education, with 38 percent of those surveyed saying they thought Mr. Bush would better handle K-12 policy, compared with 37 percent for Mr. Gore.

Campaign K-12 at the Political Conventions

Edweek.org brings you exclusive live coverage of education-related issues and events from the Democratic and Republican National Conventions. Education Week’s top political reporters will be blogging at Campaign K-12 as events unfold. You can also follow them at Twitter.com/educationweek.

Those surveyed gave Sen. Obama, the Illinois Democrat set to officially gain his party’s presidential nomination next week in Denver, an edge on handling a range of education issues, including in promoting parental choice, typically a policy position more closely identified with Republicans.

Forty-three percent said they trusted Sen. Obama to do a better job on the issue of school choice, compared with 32 percent for Sen. McCain, the Arizona Republican slated to accept his party’s nomination early next month in St. Paul, Minn.

Respondents also gave Sen. Obama an advantage on closing the achievement gap between white and minority students, supporting research efforts for developing new curriculum courses and new educational assessments, and funding education.

The Education Party?

“Education has traditionally been a Democratic issue,” said Thomas Toch, a co-director of Education Sector, a Washington think tank. He said that both President Reagan and the current president were able to use the issue effectively, but that “the needle has moved back to where it traditionally is on education, in part because of the backlash against the No Child Left Behind Act.”

Jeanne Allen, the president of the Center for Education Reform in Washington, said Democrats may have an edge on the issue simply because Americans have little to go on in trying to determine how each candidate would proceed on education policy, because the campaign has featured so little discussion of it.

“People are responding based on uninformed opinions as the issues have only recently begun to surface,” Ms. Allen said. People are more likely to guess that Democrats would handle education better, because they are perceived as the “softer” party, typically more closely identified with domestic issues, she said.

Survey respondents also said that Democrats in general were more likely to be interested in improving public schools. Forty-four percent said they thought the Democratic Party would be more committed to strengthening K-12 schools, while just 27 percent thought the Republican Party would be.

That’s also a contrast from 2004, when survey respondents gave Democrats a smaller edge over the GOP on the same question, with just 42 percent saying they trusted the Democrats more on the issue, compared with 35 percent trusting Republicans.

This year’s PDK/Gallup poll results on that question mirror another recent survey, conducted by the Program on Education Policy and Governance at Harvard University, which found that 62 percent of Americans believe that Democrats are more likely than Republicans to improve schools.

That poll, which was conducted by the polling firm Knowledge Networks last winter, is scheduled to be published in the fall issue of Education Next, a journal of research and opinion published by the Hoover Institution at Stanford University.

The poll also showed a boost in public support for private school vouchers. In the 2007 poll, 60 percent of respondents said they opposed allowing parents to use public money for private school choice, while 39 percent supported that idea. But this year, just 50 percent of respondents said they opposed the use of public funds for school vouchers, while 44 percent supported it.

A version of this article appeared in the August 27, 2008 edition of Education Week as Poll Gives Obama Edge on Improving Schools

Events

Jobs October 2021 Virtual Career Fair for Teachers and K-12 Staff
Find teaching jobs and other jobs in K-12 education at the EdWeek Top School Jobs virtual career fair.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Data Webinar
Using Integrated Analytics To Uncover Student Needs
Overwhelmed by data? Learn how an integrated approach to data analytics can help.

Content provided by Instructure
Professional Development Online Summit What's Next for Professional Development: An Overview for Principals
Join fellow educators and administrators in this discussion on professional development for principals and administrators.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Federal National School Board Group's Apology for 'Domestic Terrorism' Letter May Not Quell Uproar
The National School Boards Association voices "regret" for how it sought federal aid to address threats and harassment of school officials.
4 min read
Seminole County, Fla., deputies remove parent Chris Mink of Apopka from an emergency meeting of the Seminole County School Board in Sanford, Fla., Thursday, Sept. 2, 2021. Mink, the parent of a Bear Lake Elementary School student, opposes a call for mask mandates for Seminole schools and was escorted out for shouting during the standing-room only meeting.
Deputies remove a parent from an emergency meeting of the Seminole County School Board in Sanford, Fla., after the parent, who opposes a call for mask mandates for Seminole schools, shouts during the standing-room only meeting.
Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel via AP
Federal 'A Snitch Line on Parents.' GOP Reps Grill AG Over Response to Threats on School Officials
Attorney General Merrick Garland said his effort is meant to address violent threats against school boards, not to stifle parents' dissent.
5 min read
LEFT: Attorney General Merrick Garland speaks during a House Judiciary Committee oversight hearing of the Department of Justice on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Oct. 21, 2021. RIGHT: Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, questions Attorney General Merrick Garland.
Attorney General Merrick Garland, left, speaks during a House Judiciary Committee oversight hearing of the U.S. Department of Justice on Capitol Hill on Thursday, questioned by Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, right, among others.
Greg Nash via AP, Andrew Harnik/AP
Federal School Boards, 'Domestic Terrorism,' and Free Speech: Inside the Debate
From critical race theory to COVID policy, the heat on schools has raised issues involving free speech and the safety of public officials.
13 min read
Brenda Stephens, a school board member with Orange County Public Schools in Hillsborough, N.C. has purchased a weapon and taken a concealed carry class over concerns for her personal safety.
Brenda Stephens, a school board member in Hillsborough, N.C., says board members face threats and bullying, an atmosphere far different from what she's encountered in years of board service.
Kate Medley for Education Week
Federal Senate Confirms Catherine Lhamon to Civil Rights Post; Kamala Harris Casts Decisive Vote
Joe Biden's controversial pick to lead the Education Department's office for civil rights held that job in the Obama administration.
2 min read
Catherine Lhamon, nominee to be assistant secretary for civil rights at the Department of Education, testifies during a Senate Health, Education Labor and Pensions Committee confirmation hearing in Dirksen Building on Tuesday, July 13, 2021.
Catherine Lhamon, then-nominee to be assistant secretary for civil rights at the U.S. Department of Education, testifies during a Senate Health, Education Labor and Pensions Committee confirmation hearing in July.
Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call via AP Images