Thursday, March 29, 2012

Education as a Core Voter Priority in 2012

“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.

Friday, March 16, 2012

The Shortsighted Republican Strategy to Win Hispanic Voters

In a recent New York Times article, Colorado Republican officials expressed optimism that their economic message would be enough to win over Hispanic voters in the state.

While it’s true that our polling—and recent public polls—show that jobs and the economy are the most important issues for Hispanics, there are two fundamental flaws in the Republicans’ strategy.

The first is that our recent polling shows Hispanic voters in Colorado actually trust the Democrats more to handle economic issues. Our most-recent polling in Colorado shows that Hispanics in the state trust Democrats in the state legislature to create jobs more than Republicans.

That same poll shows that 75% of Hispanic likely voters are more likely to vote for a Congressional candidate who supports “raising taxes on people earning more than one million dollars a year to help balance the budget and create jobs.” 78% say they’re more likely to vote for a candidate who supports “ending corporate tax loopholes to help balance the budget.”

The second flaw in the Republicans’ strategy is that even the best economic messaging won’t help them if they continue their vitriolic rhetoric on immigration. While few Hispanics list immigration as the most important issue facing the country, the heated and extreme rhetoric we’ve seen in the Republican primary has cemented the image of an outwardly anti-Latino GOP in the minds of many Hispanic voters.

Over the last few months, we’ve seen prominent Republican candidates refer to Spanish as “the language of the ghetto” and embrace a policy of “self-deportation,” which aims to make life so miserable for immigrants that they choose to leave. Mitt Romney has even launched a campaign attacking Rick Santorum for voting to approve Sonia Sotomayor (the first Latina Supreme Court justice and an icon in the Hispanic community) to the U.S. Circuit court years ago.

These attacks transcend simple policy debates. They strike at the heart of the Latino community, and they will make it exceedingly difficult—if not impossible—to win back Hispanic voters this fall.