A majority of Republicans and Democrats rank education reform as one of the most important issues Tennessee's next governor must address, according to a new poll of likely primary voters.
The State Collaborative on Reforming Education, a Tennessee education advocacy and research organization, released a survey Tuesday that showed Democrats and Republicans ranked education reform second and third in importance, respectively.
Democratic primary voters ranked health care affordability as the most important issue facing an incoming governor followed by education reform, and Republican primary voters ranked education reform, which tied with crime, just after the economy and health care.
“One year from now, Tennessee will be holding primary elections for governor and most seats in the General Assembly," said SCORE Executive Chairman and CEO Jamie Woodson.
"It’s clear from this poll that education is a priority for likely voters and that voters think the improvement efforts of the past 10 years are worth continuing. This includes higher standards, statewide assessment, and teacher evaluations based on multiple measures.”
The survey was conducted by Fabrizio, Lee & Associates and Benenson Strategy Group, two firms with experience in presidential elections.
Voters were given a number of proposed education reforms, such as expansion of early workforce training, higher academic standards, improved learning opportunities and increased teacher pay, and were asked whether they would be more or less likely to support a candidate who backed these proposals.
The majority of likely voters from both parties said they would be more likely by a 25 percentage point margin to back a candidate who supported one of the potential reforms.
Also, the poll found that although Republicans and Democrats disagree on a number of issues, voters from both parties have been supportive of Republican Gov. Bill Haslam's education initiatives, with 75 percent of Republicans and 63 percent of Democrats saying they approved of the job he has done.
"The thing that stands out to me the most is that for Democratic primary voters, the fact that improving public education is their No. 2 issue for what they want the governor to focus on ... that’s pretty startling," said Shira Angert of Benenson Strategy Group, which did polling for former President Barack Obama's campaign in 2008.
"First is health care and the second is education. Economy and jobs tend to rise to the top, but in this poll we see that education is really important to them."
Angert, who conducted the poll of Democratic primary voters, said it is surprising to see how well a Republican governor is doing with the Democratic primary electorate.
"I think Governor Haslam’s job approval number makes it safe for candidates of both parties to embrace parts, if not all, of his education reforms, especially GOP candidates where the governor is especially popular," said Tony Fabrizio of Fabrizio, Lee & Associates, who conducted the Republican poll and conducted polling last year for President Donald Trump's campaign.
Pollsters randomly selected 500 voters who have voted in Republican primaries and 500 voters who have voted in Democratic primaries and who plan to do so in 2018, and conducted a telephone poll July 12-16.
The survey conducted has a margin of error of about 4.4 percentage points. SCORE has conducted similar surveys for the past 10 years.
Reach Jordan Buie at email@example.com or 615-726-5970 and on Twitter @jordanbuie.