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Tea Party Texans Said What? New Poll About Funding Texas Education Has Surprising Answers

by: Genevieve Cato

Wed Apr 16, 2014 at 00:00 PM CDT

Along with the issue of equal pay, education is front and center in the statewide races this election cycle. Wendy Davis, Greg Abbott, Glen Hegar, and Dan Patrick are counting on their education policy platforms to turn voters out in November. Education is not only an election-cycle issue. The last two legislative sessions saw education funding take center stage in battles over the budget.

All of the candidates and campaigns know how important education is to Texan voters - but are they really saying what Texans want to hear? A recent poll by the University of Texas and the Texas Tribune may have the answers - and they might surprise you.

More on Texans' positions on education and implications for statewide campaigns below the jump.

From preschool education to vouchers, candidates know that education matters to Texas voters. However, some of the assumptions made on both sides of the aisle may not truly reflect what Texans want going in to the 2014 election cycle - according to the poll.

In the past, the results have been predictable. When asked what should be done with the surplus in funding back during the 2013 legislative session, following the previous cuts to education to the tune of five billion dollars in 2011, Republicans chose "either limit government (51 percent) or lower property and business taxes (19 percent" over restoring funding to public education. The tendency towards limited government also colors Abbott's attacks on Davis' education plans. By making claims about the possible cost to the state of her education proposals, Abbott can talk about education in the context of limiting government: a one-two punch for conservative voters.

But this new poll shows some surprising areas of overlap, from Democrats to Tea Party Republicans. The focus of this shared support may be shocking to some: the majority of Texans polled believe that paying teachers better will improve the outcomes of Texas schools. According to the Texas Tribune, this was true for almost ninety percent of Democrats, sixty-five percent of Republicans, and fifty-two percent of Tea Party voters. The majority of Texans share a common belief that better paid teachers mean better education students.

Perhaps even more shocking: they also agree on increased funding for education. Almost seventy percent of those polled in February of this year said that increased funding - for public education - was an effective strategy for improving education in our state. This question split much more predictably on partisan lines, but slightly more Republicans supported education funding than those who didn't. In an election year when the Democrat at the top of the statewide ticket must appeal to moderate Texans and tap in to the issues that matter most to voters to increase turnout and ensure victory in November, that could be the margin that pushes Davis over the top.

The Tribune credits Abbott's education policies with staying more in tune with the attitudes that prevail once session begins, and for that reason suggests that Abbott may be better "threading the needle" of public opinion on education in Texas. This isn't necessarily true. This election cycle is not only about continuing to turn out the voters who have been engaged in the past, and the ones who were paying attention to the legislature in 2011 and 2013. Though the combined efforts of multiple statewide Democrat campaigns, the Texas Democratic Party, and Battleground Texas (just to name a few organizations active in this year's grassroots efforts toward increasing voter turnout), 2014 s the year of the new Texas voter - and the Davis campaign knows that.

If the new poll numbers are any indication, Texans across the board recognize the importance of better recognizing our teachers and funding our schools. Democrats at the state level have honed a message of support for education funding, while Republicans have not shied away from the spotlight when railing against it. Wendy Davis especially could gain from increasing statewide support for public education, since her first claim to filibuster fame was not in support of women's health - but to stand up against devastating cuts to our schools.  

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