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Early Education Polls Well With Republicans, Swing Voters Early Education Polls Well With Republicans, Swing Voters

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Early Education Polls Well With Republicans, Swing Voters

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Republican consultants say early childhood education is a winner for GOP candidates. ERIC CABANIS/AFP/Getty Images

Republicans running for elected office would do well to adopt an aggressive position promoting early childhood education, political operatives say. It will win them swing voters and won't hurt them one bit with their ultra-conservative base.

In a political realm where conservatives are upset about President Obama's health care law and generally skeptical of all government programs, these consultants say that early education is a unique opportunity for the GOP to dive in to an issue with positive energy. They could propose to do something rather than stop something. They could brand themselves as pro-education and pro-child and have a policy proposal to back that up. (For one red state's story on promoting pre-school, check out this story.)

 

"A majority of Republicans say we should be doing more to help kids be ready for kindergarten. As a Republican who works on campaign issues, that's a really unusual finding," said Lori Weigel, a political consultant and partner at the Republican polling firm Public Opinion Strategies.

"This is an issue that I see as an opportunity [for Republicans]. Is this going to help me grow my vote," said Kevin Madden, a Republican consultant who advised Mitt Romney in the 2012 campaign. "Clearly, this is one that does that without—and this is another key part of it—without alienating your base."

Weigel's firm teamed up with with Hart Research Associates, a Democratic polling group, to conduct a survey of 800 registered voters about early education. The research was done at the behest of the First Five Years Fund, an early learning advocacy organization. The poll findings show that 64 percent of voters think that the government should be doing more to "ensure children start kindergarten read to do their best."

 

Importantly, Weigel said, only 4 percent of respondents said the government should be doing less, "which is basically no one."

More than half of Republicans (55 percent) and almost two-thirds of independents (63 percent) also agreed that the government should be doing more on early education. True, about one-fourth of voters (27 percent) said the government is doing enough now and doesn't need to increase its activity. But that doesn't necessarily mean those voters would oppose expanded programs.

Even when presented with a price tag—$10 billion over ten years—for states to offer early education, 71 percent of voters said they supported such a program. Key swing groups—Hispanics, moderates, moderate Republicans, and suburban women—were well above 70 percent in their support.

Moreover, Weigel said, the voters that would be most likely to oppose more spending also were supportive. A majority of self-described conservatives and tea party identifiers also said they liked the plan. "There is almost no one in this country that says that they will hold this against a candidate," she said.

 

Democrats, it almost goes without saying, are also very supportive. Eight-four percent of them said a $10 billion/ten-year plan for early education is a great idea.

Why this sudden voter interest in early childhood education? One factor is the cost of child care, said Weigel, which is on the minds of most people who join her in focus groups. (The term "child care" polls higher than "pre-school," which is still considered "optional" by many voters. Child care is not.)

Another factor driving opinion is the middle class squeeze. Weigel said she talks to a lot of people who aren't poor enough to qualify for government benefits, but they're certainly not rich. "They're saying, 'What can the government do for me?'" This is an easy answer.

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Republicans aren't suddenly going sound like Democrats when it comes to early education. "I don't see introducing this issue [in GOP rhetoric] as an event, but as a process," said Madden, who is now an executive vice president at JDI Frontline. "This is one of the ways to position themselves favorably and seize back that 'reformer' brand."

It will be significant if GOP candidates start talking about education more than they do now. Romney's political camp steered away from highlighting education because they didn't think embracing the issue would win over voters. Madden said Republican candidates still sound too much like economists when they talk about education. They should be making the case more personal—i.e., this is help for your kid and your family.

Democrats, he also acknowledged, have mastered the talking points on that front.

For our insiders: What does this positive polling data mean for early education advocates? How can they convince political candidates from both parties to elevate the issue in their campaigns? How would that change the dialogue around early education? Is there a problem with equating the terms "child care" and "pre-school?" What would a Republican early education proposal look like?

[Note: This is a moderated blog on education issues. Comments are approved on a case-by-case basis. Contact me if you want to be a regular commenter.]

Don't Miss Today's Top Stories

Excellent!"

Rick, Executive Director for Policy

Concise coverage of everything I wish I had hours to read about."

Chuck, Graduate Student

The day's action in one quick read."

Stacy, Director of Communications

I find them informative and appreciate the daily news updates and enjoy the humor as well."

Richard, VP of Government Affairs

Chock full of usable information on today's issues. "

Michael, Executive Director

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