by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
American attitudes on education-related issues are undergoing historic changes leading up to this year’s midterm elections. Typically a tertiary issue for voters, education ranked sixth in a recent Pew Research Center poll on issues voters find “very important.” A recent Harris Poll found education to be the fourth-most important issue for parents — behind perennial heavyweights such as the economy, taxation, and health care. At the same time, over 80% of parents said that education had become more important to them than in the past, and just as many said they would vote outside their own party for candidates whose education stances matched their own.
Voters’ attention to education issues may be uncommonly high, but an even more momentous shift is suggested by the fact that the political party Americans trust most on education is now a toss-up. Over the past three decades, Hart Research has conducted two dozen polls and found that Americans favored Democrats over Republicans on education issues by a minimum of six points; on average, the Democratic advantage was just under 14 points. But in March 2022, when Rasmussen asked 1,000 likely voters, “[w]hich party do you trust more to deal with education issues, Democrats or Republicans?” 43% reported that they trusted Republicans, compared to just 36% who favored Democrats.
Other polls confirm this finding: A June 2022 poll by Democrats for Education Reform found that 47% of voters in battleground districts trusted Republicans on education while 44% trusted Democrats. Another poll of voters in battleground states by the American Federation of Teachers revealed that 39% of voters trusted Republicans on the issue, giving them a one-point lead over Democrats. It seems that just as education’s salience with voters is rising, Democrats’ advantage is dissolving.
We have already seen education take center stage as a policy issue in recent elections, most notably during the Virginia and New Jersey races for governor in 2021.