Can School Choice Save Trump?

OK, the short answer to that question is no.

Although education, via school choice, got some airtime at the RNC convention last night there is little evidence that a lot of single issue school choice voters are out there. Generally fewer than one in ten voters say they base presidential votes on education – this is as opposed to issues like guns or abortion where more voters, on either side of those issues, say candidate positions are determinative.*

A more disciplined politician than Donald Trump (and perhaps one without his baggage) could probably use this moment to drive a wedge on school choice. Given the lay of the land in 2020 a combination of innovative policies and steady messaging from the White House could have an impact. It should go without saying that Donald Trump is not such a politician. And 2020 America, with both parties pretty hardened and education, despite the chaos around schools right now, trailing the pandemic, the economy, and race relations for attention does not seem to be the year for an education breakout. That could, of course, change if the lumbering start to schools completely falls apart later in the fall, though I would not bet on it.

Still, as Andrew Gillum found out in Florida, in a tight election even a little school choice action at the margins can matter. So given that the state polls are tighter than national ones and there is some movement among independents it’s not something to entirely ignore. As Democrats, and the country, learned the hard way in 2016 leave it all on the field and always campaign like you’re behind. That’s why Chad Aldeman and Alex Spurrier pointed out recently it wouldn’t kill the Dems to have something to say on the issue. In any event, listening to Tim Scott and Nicki Haley makes it clear they’ll have to have something to say in 2024. At some point circumstances will align to force the question on the gap between Democratic elites and minority voters on school choice – and K-12 education more generally. 2020 doesn’t seem to be the year.

*Beware polls that ask if it’s important, voters say lots of things are important. Especially voters answering a poll about education. That’s not the same as determinative. And, not surprisingly, education ranks below a host of other issues in most polls right now in terms of voter importance.

Disc – I’m not an arms length observer here, I’m supporting Biden – Harris.