Strong bipartisan support for public preschool, new poll suggests

July 31, 2013

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Fifty percent of registered voters surveyed said the "strongly supported" the president's preschool proposal. Click to enlarge. Source: "Key findings from a national survey of 800 registered voters conducted July 8-11, 2013," First Five Years Fund

(Click to enlarge) Fifty percent of registered voters surveyed said they “strongly supported” the president’s preschool proposal. Source: First Five Years Fund

A new poll released Wednesday suggests broad bipartisan support exists for federally funded public preschool.

The poll, commissioned by the early education advocacy group First Five Years Fund, found that 50 percent of the 800 registered voters polled nationwide said they “strongly” support President Barack Obama’s $75 billion proposal to expand public preschool offerings by raising the federal tobacco tax. Another 20 percent said they “somewhat” support it.

A majority of likely voters from every major party — including 60 percent of registered Republicans — supported the plan, according to the bipartisan polling team that conducted the poll, which included Public Opinion Strategies, a Virginia-based firm that has conducted polls for several Republican campaigns. Sixty-four percent of Independents and 84 percent of Democrats also said they strongly supported or somewhat supported the proposal. The poll, which had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points, surveyed a demographically representative sample of likely voters, pollsters said, and included calls to both landlines (500) and cell phones (300).

“If you were to research something like Coca-Cola or smartphones, you would find this kind of agreement across parties,” said Rich Neimand, a spokesperson for the First Five Years Fund, who has experience in commercial polling. “You usually do not find this on a social issue. It’s very rare.”

Obama’s proposal would target low- and moderate-income families and would be paid for with a new tax, which some Republican lawmakers have said they will not support. The program was explained to those polled. (See sidebar.)

Several typically conservative groups like business organizations and retired military officers have come out in favor of the idea to expand public preschool. Their argument is that the high return on investment research has shown for money spent on early education makes public spending on such programs worthwhile.

Still, no Republican lawmaker has come out in favor of Obama’s proposal. The four Republican representatives from California who responded to requests for an interview on the subject early this summer – Ken Calvert, R-Corona; Dana Rohrabacher, R-Newport Beach; Doug LaMalfa, R-Redding; and John Campbell, R-Irvine – all opposed the idea.

Campbell said he would not vote for the proposal or the tax increase that comes with it. “There’s no money for what we have now,” he said in June, “and I am far, far from being convinced that this is even good if we could afford it.”

Even Republican governors who support public preschool in their own states, like Gov. Nathan Deal in Georgia, have balked at paying for the new program with a new tax, according to the Washington Post.

Advocates are hoping the new poll might sway the politicians, and are optimistic based on one of the poll results. In the last question, pollsters laid out an argument in favor of the proposal and an argument against it and asked respondents which came closest to their opinion.

Typically the generic support offered at the beginning of such a poll drops by 10 to 12 percent when voters hear the argument against a proposed measure or program, Neimand said. In this case, support only dropped 7 points and approval held at 62 percent.

“If you go into and election with a 62 (percent approval),” Neimand said, “unless you get caught with a goat, you would win.”

Lillian Mongeau covers early childhood education. Contact her or follow her @lrmongeau.

A majority of registered voters surveyed from each major party expressed support for the president’s public preschool proposal. (Click to enlarge) Source: “Key findings from a national survey of 800 registered voters conducted July 8-11, 2013,” First Five Years Fund

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