If improving public schools was all that voters cared about in this presidential election, Democratic candidate Barack Obama would get more votes than Republican candidate John McCain, according to the results of a new poll. The poll was conducted by the Gallup Organization and Phi Delta Kappa International, a professional society for educators. Its findings are surprising partly because neither candidate has said much publicly about his plan for improving schools. These results also differ from the results of the same poll in the previous two presidential elections. In 2000 and 2004, no candidate—Republican or Democrat—emerged from the poll as a clear favorite on education issues.
In the latest poll, 46 percent of voting-age adults said Obama would do a better job of handling education, compared with 29 percent who favored McCain. The remaining 25 percent said they didn't know which candidate would be a better education president. Asked which candidate was better poised to close the achievement gap, support research in education, and adequately fund schools, respondents gave Obama the edge each time. Even on the question of promoting parental choice in schools, generally a strong point for Republicans, Obama was favored by 43 percent to McCain's 32 percent.
So why do more people think that schools would be better off if Obama is elected president? That's a question that even officials who conducted the poll couldn't answer. One thing to keep in mind is that this poll of 1,002 adults was conducted from June 14 to July 3. McCain only recently has advanced some of his ideas for improving schools, which include giving parents more choices. Obama, on the other hand, had been more outspoken about education, and poll respondents may have rewarded him for that.
Interestingly, the public is divided on some ideas that Obama has expressed support for on the campaign trail. For instance, the poll found an even split among those who support tying teacher pay to student test scores, an idea that Obama doesn't completely reject despite strong opposition from teacher unions. Also, three of four adults in the poll said that the No Child Left Behind Act has hurt schools in their communities. Both Obama and McCain support a renewal of the law with some changes—although neither has said exactly what changes they would make to it.
The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.