(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)
Clint Bolick, recovering from an accident in Wyoming, nevertheless managed to hit the Wall Street Journal this week on education and the Presidential election:
Education is slipping in priority among many voters but not among Hispanics, many of whom see school choice as a deciding factor in whom to vote for this fall. This has implications for the presidential election.
A new poll shows that 82% of Hispanics consider education as one of three most important issues facing this country. The survey also shows that, even while Hispanics trust Democrats over Republicans on education by more than a two-to-one margin, that ratio could change if Republicans heavily promote school choice while Democrats oppose it.
The poll was conducted last year among more than 800 registered Hispanic voters for the Alliance for School Choice and the Hispanic Coalition for Reform and Educational Options, but never publicly released. It was conducted by two polling firms, The Polling Company (which works primarily for Republicans) and the Ampersand Agency, (which polls mostly for Democrats).
This survey found that although Hispanic voters generally consider public schools to be effective, they also favor, by a wide margin, school choice (defined as allowing parents a choice in whether to spend their children’s education dollars in public or private schools).
Fifty-two percent of Hispanic voters have a favorable view of school choice, according to the poll, while only 7% had an unfavorable view. When asked about vouchers specifically, 32% expressed a favorable opinion compared to 13% unfavorable.
But where the poll really gets interesting is on school choice as an electoral issue: 65% of those surveyed reported that they would be more likely to support a candidate for office who supports school choice, including 35% who said they would be “much more likely.” Only 19% said they would be less likely to vote for a pro-school choice candidate.
These numbers were high regardless of whether the person was of Mexican, Puerto Rican or Cuban descent. They also transcended party affiliation: 67% of Republicans, 70% of independents and 63% of Democrats preferring pro-school choice candidates. And 70% of those who prefer pro-school choice candidates — including 66% of Democrats — said they would cross party lines to vote for a candidate who supports school choice over one who opposes it.
Barack Obama has hinted at being open to serious education reform. Before the Wisconsin primary in February, he praised Milwaukee’s highly successful school-voucher program. But, facing furious criticism from the establishment, which is disproportionately influential in Democratic politics, he backtracked.
John McCain has been a consistent supporter of school choice and passionately endorsed it during one of the Republican debates, although the issue is far from a mainstay of his campaign. His appointment of pro-school choice former Arizona Superintendent Lisa Graham Keegan as his campaign’s top education adviser may signal a new emphasis.
Sen. Obama will count heavily on teachers’ unions for support. The unions, though, have nowhere else to go. Hispanics do. If Mr. Obama opposes school choice, he will cede to his opponent a huge opportunity to make inroads among Hispanic voters — if Sen. McCain seizes it.
Hispanic votes will be crucial in key battleground states, including Florida, Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico. George W. Bush won 40% of Hispanic votes in 2004, but support slipped to 30% for GOP congressional candidates in 2006. Mr. Obama fared poorly among Hispanics in the presidential primaries, while Mr. McCain carried 74% of Hispanic votes when he won re-election to the Senate in 2004. All that adds up to this: Hispanics voting on school choice could tip the balance of the election.
Hispanic voters are overwhelmingly young and have exhibited a propensity toward political independence — and no issue is more tangible for them than educational opportunity. If Hispanics align their voting with the educational interests of their children, it could alter the electoral landscape — not merely for this election, but permanently.