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Poll Paints Rosy Picture of How Democrats View Obama on Education

By Andrew Ujifusa — October 08, 2019 3 min read
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A new poll backed by a Washington education advocacy group says that despite recent controversy in the Democratic Party over President Barack Obama’s education policies, a clear majority stand by the 44th president’s work on K-12.

In addition, the poll, conducted by the Benenson Strategy Group on behalf of Education Reform Now—a group that promotes public school choice and robust accountability policies—found that nearly nine in 10 African-American voters want more public school choice, including charter schools. There was also relatively robust support for more K-12 education funding coupled with “new ideas” for schools, as well as higher pay for teachers linked to creative incentives for better and more diverse educators. (Education Reform Now’s political action committee, Democrats for Education Reform, has been a vocal backer of Obama’s K-12 initiatives.)

So what about voters’ views on Obama’s legacy? Here’s what the Benenson poll says:

  • When asked, 61 percent of Democratic primary voters surveyed said they sided more with “President Obama, who said that his education policies would promote innovation and choice in public schools and raise standards for every student,” according to Benenson.
  • By contrast, just 21 percent of Democratic primary voters polled said they agreed more with “Democratic opponents of President Obama’s education policies, who said that his agenda would weaken public schools, promote standardized testing, and get in the way of teaching.”

We recently wrote about Obama’s complex education legacy and how it was—and was not—being reconsidered by various parties, including by Obama himself.

The term “innovation” is, of course, to a certain extent a subjective one, and it’s not clear from the available answers where such innovation applied, although the Obama administration did make the Investing in Innovation (i3) grant program one of its top priorities. While the Obama administration incentivized states to adopt the Common Core State Standards, it was never an official policy of the administration to require states to use them.

The two possible answers on the poll also do not present scenarios that are diametrically opposed; promoting standardized testing, for example, is not necessarily the opposite of raising standards for every student.

A 2015 poll by the Pew Research Center found a somewhat lower percentage of Democrats—51 percent—who had a favorable view of Obama’s Education Department, well below other federal agencies. There’s other evidence showing that Obama’s education policy footprint isn’t particularly loved by Democrats. For example, education plans from Democratic presidential candidates don’t feature a lot that resembles the Race to the Top initiative or School Improvement Grants that pushed states and districts to adopt certain policies. In large part, the candidates’ plans have focused on directing much more money to public schools.

The poll also underscores the results from a past public opinion survey Benenson conducted showing that charter schools are popular among black voters. The results of the new poll showed that 89 percent of black Democratic primary voters support a proposal to “expand access to more choices and options within the public-school system, including magnet schools, career academies, and public charter schools.” More broadly 81 percent of all voters surveyed and 81 percent of Democratic voters supported that idea.

In addition, 77 percent of those surveyed in the Benenson poll released this week backed the proposal to “require each state to measure student achievement through statewide assessments with a consistent set of benchmarks and standards, so that we can make apples-to-apples comparisons to understand which schools are succeeding and which need help.”

The new poll, which took place in August and September and used phone as well as online interviews, was based on interviews with 1,721 likely 2020 voters, including an oversample of 1,227 likely Democratic primary voters. The poll’s margin of error among 2020 voters is plus or minus 2.4 percentage points.

An extended summary of the Benenson poll results is available here.

Photo: President Barack Obama talks with middle-school students from Newark, N.J., during an “Hour of Code” event at the White House in 2014. (Jacquelyn Martin/AP-File)

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