Education is scoring pretty low right now on most voter ratings of “most important issues,” with only 12 percent rating it as the top issue in one* survey, and four percent in another. Yet when voters are allowed to rank how strongly they feel about multiple issues simultaneously, education scores about the same now as it did back in 2000 when it was a much bigger campaign issue.
One obvious explanation is that voters consistently care a lot about education, but the state of the country and world makes other issues variable. In a close election, though, can education policy make a difference in the minds of voters? Maybe more as a metaphor than as an actual issue. Arguably, George Bush’s focus on education in 2000 helped flesh out the “compassionate conservative” meme. People didn’t vote for his ed policy per se, but it helped reinforce a carefully crafted image–a man with conservative values who cared about poor people. It seems like there is a large swath of domestic policy middle ground sitting wide open in a close election right now, and it’s not hard to imagine creative ways for either candidate to use education policy to flesh out a broader image of change or pragmatism or accountability or other memes. The issue still seems there for the taking.
On the other hand, The Onion has an alternate theory on THE key election issue, and I find the case somewhat compelling.
*Story via Education Week, subscription needed to view.
–Guestblogger Kevin Huffman