Voters Are Listening but Presidential Candidates Aren’t Talking

Written by: Amy Auletto

Primary Source: Green & Write, November 23, 2015

Recently, Communities in Schools and Public Opinion Strategies conducted a poll to see where voters stand on K-12 education. Results show that while an overwhelming majority of likely voters believes that improving K-12 education should be a priority for the next president, only one-third of them can recall the candidates discussing education during their campaigns.

About the Poll

The poll surveyed 1,200 likely voters from eight swing states – Florida, Ohio, Virginia, Iowa, New Hampshire, Colorado, Nevada, and North Carolina. When asked to rate the importance of nine different issues, improving education came in fourth – in front of immigration and Social Security/Medicare reform – with 68% of participants agreeing that it should be a priority for the next president. Ahead of education were concerns about the economy, national debt, and federal spending.

However, when asked whether or not they have heard any of the 2016 presidential candidates discuss plans to improve K-12 education, this issue came in dead last with only 36% of respondents stating that they had. In contrast, 81% of participants reported hearing about immigration and 54% could remember candidates speaking about Social Security and Medicare reform.

It is surprising that presidential campaigns are spending so little time on the topic of education when 76% of those polled believe it should be a priority to “make sure all children in my community have an equal opportunity to get a good education, no matter their economic circumstances.” Voters are clearly concerned about K-12 education but candidates on both sides of the aisle are failing to address this critical issue.

Education a Non-Issue for Republican Candidates


Photo Courtesy of Gage Skidmore

Republican frontrunners Donald Trump and Ben Carson don’t have much to say about education. On his official campaign website, Trump doesn’t even identify education as an issue, instead focusing on gun rights, immigration, U.S.-China trade relations, Veterans Affairs reform, and taxes. Carson dedicates a meager 152 words to the topic, calling for local control and a repeal of the Common Core Standards.

Democratic Candidates Slightly More Vocal

Democratic frontrunners Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have a little bit more to say on the topic. Clinton has identified college, early childhood education, and K-12 education as three of twenty-four key issues in her campaign. In regards to K-12 education, Clinton states that making high-quality education accessible to every child, supporting educators, and improving student outcomes are her priorities. Sanders, on the other hand, only identifies college debt as an issue and doesn’t even mention K-12 education on his website.

Candidates Need to Say More

As evidenced by recent poll results, voters think education should be a presidential priority. Yet, the 2016 candidates seem to have little to say on the issue. While some presidential hopefuls acknowledge education on their websites, candidates have been quiet on this issue in recent debates. Both Republican and Democratic debates have been criticized for ignoring K-12 education.

The voters are ready to listen. It’s time for the candidates to start talking.

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Amy Auletto
Amy Auletto is a doctoral student in Educational Policy. She is interested in the impact that equitable funding and access to effective teachers have on the educational outcomes of disadvantaged student populations. Prior to beginning her studies at Michigan State University, she taught middle school math in Detroit. Amy earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology, master of Social Work, and MA in educational studies from the University of Michigan.