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Voting for Our Future: What Candidates Must Say About Education in 2012

The populous is hungry for a deeper conversation about education -- but do the candidates know how to talk to us about this all-important issue?

Photo Credit: Juriah Mosin |


So the "general election has begun" proclaims The Hill, and the exhortations from the punditry are for candidates to either, shore up their base or move to the center.

One interesting bit of advice, coming from more than one source, is for the candidates to "talk about education." Recent research results from the College Board strongly suggest that advice may not be a bad idea. But if Democratic candidates want to take that advice to heart, they need to develop more effective education talking points than what's currently being conveyed.

Education Is "Top Tier" In 2012 Election

According to the College Board survey, "education is a top issue for voters in this year’s elections." Interesting data nuggets available in the pdf (link above) include:

  • 67 percent of the responders say education will be extremely important to them personally in this year’s elections for president and Congress.
  • Education ranks behind jobs and the economy (82 percent extremely important) and is on par with government spending (69 percent), health care (67 percent), and the federal budget deficit (64 percent).
  • Three out of four voters say having a post-secondary degree or credential is important to achieving success in the workplace.
  • Those most likely to be “education voters” in the 2012 elections are African Americans (91 percent), Hispanics (81 percent), Democrats (79 percent), and women (75 percent), especially 18- to 49-year-old women (77 percent).
  • A large majority of voters believes that increased funding for education is necessary, including four in nine who say it is definitely necessary. A 55 percent majority would be willing to pay $200 more per year in taxes to provide increased funding for education.

Most importantly, the survey was conducted in the following "swing states" that many observers have identified to be crucial battlegrounds in the election: Colorado, Florida, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Wisconsin.

So if education is a hot topic among the electorate, how is it being addressed in national elections? Barely at all, it seems.

As Huffington Post's Joy Resmovits notes, the political debate among Republican primary candidates mostly ignored education. And in a campaign speech President Obama recently gave in Vermont, he devoted all of two minutes to education in a 35-minute speech -- about a minute each to K-12 and higher ed. (View it here with the education part beginning at 16:00.)

Education issues factor more strongly in state governors races (most education spending takes place at the state level). But according to a recent article in the education trade newspaper Education Week, the role education plays in the dozen gubernatorial races taking place across the country defies "easy political categories."

From Washington state, where the candidates' proposals are "very similar," to Indiana, where outgoing governor Mitch Daniels appears to be leaving an interrupted legacy, to North Carolina, where education is likely to be viewed through the lens of a .75¢ tax increase -- the political discussion about education is a pretty watery stew.

So, education is an issue that is very much up for grabs in the 2012 elections. And according to the College Board survey, although Democrats are slightly better positioned than Republicans, the reality is that "neither party enjoys the broad support of swing state voters."

It's hard to blame political candidates alone for their inability to strike a resonate chord on education. Especially since the information available in the general media is so terrible.

Media Cluelessness On Education

Regardless of which side of the political spectrum you happen to be on, the consensus view is that press coverage on education is mostly lousy.

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