MURFREESBORO, Tenn. – Tennesseans remain divided statewide on Gov. Bill Haslam’s plan to spend state money on private schooling for poor children in failing public schools, but views differ sharply by race and region, the latest MTSU Poll shows.
Conducted Feb. 11-19, the telephone poll of 650 randomly selected Tennessee adults found 46 percent opposed to the plan but 40 percent in support of it, a statistical “dead heat,” given the poll’s four-percentage-point error margin. Another 12 percent of Tennesseans said they did not know, and the remaining 2 percent declined to answer.
“Statewide, it’s too close to call,” said Dr. Ken Blake, director of the MTSU Poll. “Opponents of the plan outnumbered supporters in our sample, but it’s unclear whether the same is true among all Tennesseans. They appear evenly, or nearly evenly, divided.”
However, opinions on the governor’s proposal divide sharply by race, with 63 percent of minorities in favor compared to only 37 percent of whites. Twenty-eight percent of minorities oppose the measure, while the rest give no answer. By contrast, 48 percent of whites oppose the plan, while the rest give no answer.
An analysis of attitudes just among whites found whites in Middle Tennessee significantly more opposed (53 percent) than in favor (33 percent) with 12 percent undecided and the rest giving no answer. A similar pattern emerged among whites in West Tennessee, with 53 percent opposed, 28 percent in favor, 17 percent undecided and the rest giving no answer. Whites in East Tennessee were evenly divided, with 44 percent opposed, 43 percent in favor, 11 percent undecided and the rest giving no answer.
“Thus, a more nuanced analysis finds support for school vouchers strongest among the state’s minorities and opposition strongest among whites, especially those in the state’s Middle and Western regions,” Blake said.
Attitudes toward the plan are statistically uniform across party affiliation, with 38 percent of the governor’s fellow Republicans supporting the measure compared to 41 percent of independents and 45 percent of Democrats. The question asked respondents, “Suppose a child in Tennessee is poor and is attending a public school that is among the bottom 5 percent in overall achievement. Would you favor or oppose using state money to send such a child to a private school?”
Meanwhile, Tennesseans give the quality of the state’s public schools about a “C” on average but give the quality of their local schools a significantly higher “C-plus” on average. Specifically, 8 percent give school quality statewide an “A,” while 28 percent give it a “B,” 36 percent give it a “C,” 8 percent give it a “D,” 6 percent give it an “F,” and 14 percent don’t know or decline to answer. By contrast, 18 percent give the quality of their local schools an “A,” 36 percent give it a “B,” 22 percent give it a “C,” 7 percent give it a “D,” 6 percent give it an “F,” and 11 percent don’t know or decline to answer.
As was the case in the Fall 2011 MTSU Poll, Tennesseans in the “doughnut” of counties circling Metro Nashville are significantly happier with the quality of their local public schools than are residents of Metro Nashville and Tennesseans living in West Tennessee. “Doughnut” dwellers give their local school quality a “B” on average, while West Tennesseans give their local school quality a “C-plus,” and Metro Nashville residents give their local school quality closer to a “C.”
Poll data were collected by Issues and Answers Network Inc. using balanced, random samples of Tennessee landline and cell phones. The data were weighted to match the latest available Census estimates of gender and race proportions in Tennessee.