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What Polling Says About Common Core And Jeb Bush’s Presidential Run

John O'Connor
StateImpact Florida

  Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush took a first step toward becoming a 2016 presidential candidate Tuesday.

And that has many asking how his position on education issues would affect both a Republican primary candidacy and, if Bush survives, a general election candidacy.

Bush made education one of his top issues during his two terms as governor — expanding the use of standardized tests, grading public schools and districts, holding back third graders with the lowest scores on the state reading test. He’s spent his time out of office urging other states to adopt similar policies.

He’s also one of the leading proponents for the Common Core math and language arts standards adopted by more than 40 states, including Florida. But opposition to Common Core is growing, and states like North Carolina, South Carolina and Louisiana are considering how to repeal or change Common Core.

At 538, Nate Silver grabs an Associated Press-NORC Center poll — from July 2013 — to argue, if Bush has a chance, his “support of the Common Core should be somewhere between benign and modestly helpful for him.” Vox makes a similar argument: “Common Core won’t sink Jeb Bush’s presidential run.”

Polling on education issues is typically sparse, and the best data usually comes from big annual polls, most notably the PDK/Gallup survey. It’s probably too soon to say whether Common Core is a political liability or asset for Bush.

Many thought Gov. Rick Scott’s tolerance of Common Core might hurt his candidacy.He won reelection, but that was a choice between a  Republican and a Democrat. GOP primary voters will have the option to choose an anti-Core Republican candidate over Bush.

Here’s what we know from education polls:

Common Core is increasingly unpopular

According to the PDK/Gallup survey, the percentage of Americans surveyed who said they had heard of Common Core rose from 2013 to 2014. And 60 percent of those polled in 2014 said they opposed Common Core.

The previous year, four in ten surveyed said they thought Common Core would improve schools. Two in ten said they thought Common Core would make schools worse.

Education Next has found a similar trend. The percentage supporting the standards is decreasing while the percentage opposing the standards is increasing.

“In 2013, no less than 65% of the general public favored the standards,”the survey’s authors wrote, “but that portion is now just 53%. Meanwhile, the opposition has doubled from 13% to 26%.”

The decline is even worse among Republicans. A majority, 53 percent, of Republicans polled in 2013 supported Common Core. In 2014, Republican support dropped to 43 percent.

Indiana and Oklahoma have already dumped the standards. Many other Republican-led states are in the process of joining them — including early-voting South Carolina.

Common Core is increasingly a partisan issue

Initially the standards had both Republican and Democratic support, as well as the endorsement of the business community. Similarly, initial opposition to the standards largely came from those furthest to the political right and left.

But increasingly, support for the standards is breaking down party lines.

While Republican support for the standards dropped by 13 percentage points in the Education Next survey, approval from Democrats essentially held steady at 63 percent. A University of Connecticut poll from May found more than half of Democrats surveyed approved of the standards, but less than one-third of both Republicans and independents approved.

The most recent Gallup poll found nearly three-quarters of Republicans surveyed oppose Common Core.

At Vox, Libby Nelson notes that the debate among Republicans is over — with the major factions of GOP voters roughly equally opposed to Common Core.

The people who dislike Common Core, REALLY dislike Common Core

Polling shows education is usually a top issue in national elections, but it’s seldom the issue voters are most passionate about.

Common Core is different. Activists have spent the past two years fact-checking, protesting and organizing opposition in states across the country.

The rising percentage of voters who oppose the standards is evidence of their efforts. There’s no polling to support this — just reporting — but fighting Common Core is the top issue for many in the GOP base.

The more people know about Common Core, the less they like it

More than 60 percent of people surveyed by the University of Connecticut who said they knew “a great deal” about Common Core thought it was bad policy.

The PDK/Gallup and Education Next polls show those surveyed were more familiar with Common Core in 2014 than 2013 — and the percentage of people supporting the standards declined.

And opposition among the people likely most familiar with Common Core — teachers — is also increasing. Just 12 percent of teachers said they opposed the standards in Education Next’s 2013 poll. That figure jumped to 40 percent in 2014.

Which brings us to…

Test results

Students in Florida and dozens of other states will take new tests tied to the standards for the first time this school year. The percentage of students meeting state goals on those exams is expected to drop by 30 percentage points or more.

If people don’t know about Common Core now, they will when the test results come out.

Parents in some states, New York, for example, have revolted at those results. In Kentucky, the results were met with more of a shrug.

If those test results grab provoke a reaction, it’s possible the polling for Common Core — and its perception as a presidential political issue — could look very different a year from now.

John O’Connor is a reporter for StateImpact Florida, a project of WUSF, WLRN and NPR covering education. John writes for the StateImpact Florida blog and produces stories for air on Florida public radio stations.