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Polling Center: Education Wasn't a Silver Bullet for Democrats

A couple of Democrats won election in 2012 talking about education, but that doesn't mean the issue was a silver bullet for the minority party. Lots of others talked about it and lost, and the two who won were victorious in districts favorable to them.

By Chris Perkins
Chris Perkins is a partner at the Republican polling firm Wilson Perkins Allen Opinion Research.

Recently, Jeff Crosby pointed to two victories by Reps. Abel Herrero and Joe Moody in the 2012 elections as evidence that “... poll after poll showed that public education was a powerful vote-mover. And the Republicans had no compelling defense.”

Crosby’s evidence: Two candidates were elected to the Texas House because of education-themed mailers.

Indeed, Herrero and Moody won their races. But these weren’t the only districts where education-themed mailers flooded voters’ mailboxes. In fact, House Republicans in swing districts statewide were targeted for “gutting” education. However, just ask these Democrat challengers how effective those attacks proved to be: John Adams, Claudia Brown, Chris Frandsen, Yvonne Gonzalez-Toureilles, Rich Hancock, Ann Johnson, Carol Kent, Robert Miklos, Doro Olivo, Rosemary Robbins, Robert Stem and Matt Stillwell.

There’s a simple reason few, if any, of the names listed above will sound familiar: None of them were elected to the Texas House in 2012, despite running against Republicans in 2012 on the theme of education “cuts.”

True, education was a factor on voters’ minds in 2012, but the major issues which drove voters were job creation, government spending, and decreasing the size of government. When Democrats attacked Republicans over education funding, polling showed the Republican response was easy to communicate to voters: “Dedicating more dollars directly to the classroom by decreasing the Austin government bureaucracy that does more harm than good to local school districts.”

As far as voters were concerned, the matter was settled.

Polling indicated the Republican response, as direct as it was, blunted the onslaught of liberal attacks on education funding. Voters appreciated that answer, and it allowed GOP candidates to move onto other messages, including jobs and the economy, which were topics voters wanted to hear debated.

Return to the elections of Reps. Herrero and Moody, because they are worth reviewing. No doubt both candidates appreciated the elegant and timely mail pieces. However, they were frontrunners for their seats the moment they were nominated, and instead of education cuts, their mail could just as easily have been about any of fifteen other generically relevant issues and had the same effect. Why? Because these two districts were redrawn to benefit ANY Democrat candidate.

Consider, please, Herrero’s HD-34, where the base GOP percentage is 40 percent. Republican Connie Scott won 43 percent of the vote. Similarly, in Moody’s HD-78, the base GOP percentage is just 42 percent, despite which Republican Dee Margo carried 46 percent.  In both cases, all a Democrat had to do was file to become the frontrunner. And in both cases in 2012, district demographics were more powerful factors in the election than any single issue.

Finally, back to the source of all this discussion: The Univeristy of Texas/Texas Tribune polling done and discussed by Jim Henson and Joshua Blank indeed accurately explains how education, despite its vital interest to our state, was not a driving force behind the electorate in 2012. Education does and should matter, but the Democrats attacks last year just didn’t work.

Chris Perkins is a partner at the Republican polling firm Wilson Perkins Allen Opinion Research.

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Politics Public education Budget Republican Party Of Texas Texas Democratic Party