“If you start cutting on education, you are starting to reshape our future.”
That’s what a registered independent woman in Las Vegas told us during a 2010 focus group, and it’s a sentiment we’ve seen echoed in polls and focus groups throughout the country, particularly during the recession.
The fact that education has become a larger priority during the recession speaks to the intrinsic connection that voters make between education and the economy. That connection represents one of the most effective and authentic way of talking about economic issues.
Across the country, voters of all ideologies and backgrounds see a strong and innovative education system as a major point of hope. They are keenly aware that we are now competing directly with workers in other countries for jobs, and they have a strong sense that our education system is falling behind.
We’ve seen this over the years as voters in focus groups display a very strong sense of where their states’ education systems rank compared with other countries and other states.
The concern over global competition for jobs translates directly into support for maintaining or increasing school funding at state and local levels. For example, we asked Arizona voters in May of 2011 which methods they thought would be effective for improving the state’s struggling economy. We presented three options: cutting taxes on individuals, cutting taxes on businesses, and stopping cuts to schools and investing in children.
Voters overwhelmingly thought the latter would be most effective. 69% agreed that investing in education would be effective for improving Arizona’s economy, while only 23% disagreed. Meanwhile, just 39% thought cutting taxes on businesses would be effective.
This is not unique to Arizona, either. The belief that education is essential to a thriving economy is illustrated by strong, across-the-board opposition to budget cuts in education, especially those that result in job losses for educators and increased class sizes. Slight majorities in many states even favor raising their own taxes to prevent further education cuts or restore funding.
Importantly, these trends are especially pronounced among Hispanic voters. Effectively communicating with Hispanic voters on education issues represents an important opportunity to boost turnout in a year where many races will hinge on whether Latinos come out to vote.
For example, in our recent survey of Texas Hispanics, "ensuring that our children have the education they need to succeed in a worldwide economy" was one of the strongest messages to motivate Hispanics to vote.
These facts demonstrate voters’ highly nuanced and evolved opinions on the issues of jobs and the economy. We expect winning candidates in 2012 to be those who can effectively convey a vision for creating jobs, not just in the short term, but for future generations as well. To that end, an effective and innovative education message will be a boon to candidates this year.