The Independent Poll: Voters divided over ESAs, support more money for education

Riley Snyder
Riley Snyder

Nevada voters are split on support for a controversial quasi-school voucher program that promises to become a major sticking point between Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval and legislative Democratic leaders.

Most voters believe that state public schools are stagnating or declining in quality, but many voters surveyed in the new Independent Poll believe the decision to raise taxes in 2015 to fund K-12 education was the right step.

The poll’s release comes on the heels of Sandoval’s announcement Tuesday to allocate roughly $60 million toward the Educational Savings Accounts, a school choice program designed to give all parents of public school children who opt in up to $5,100 of state money to use for private schools or other educational needs.

Progressive groups and Democrats obtained an injunction against the program soon after its passage in 2015, and the Nevada Supreme Court found in September 2016 that the system in place for funding the program was unconstitutional.

Voters were specifically asked the following, with statements from supporters and opponents rotated:

“In 2015, Governor Sandoval and the state legislature passed a law establishing Education Savings Accounts, which would give parents $5,000 dollar grants to send their children to private schools. With whom do you agree with more? Supporters of this new law, who say that it allows parents to remove their children from failing public schools and send them to the private school of their choice. Or opponents of this new law, who say that it takes needed funds away from public schools and gives it to unaccountable private and religious schools instead.”

Nevada voters polled were split on whether they agreed with supporters (43 percent) or opponents (45 percent) of the program, with voters largely split along party lines. Sixty-eight percent of self-identified Democrats agreed with opponents of the program with 28 percent agreeing with supporters, while Republicans agreed with supporters by a 54 to 34 percent margin.

Independents agreed with supporters by a 10-point margin (48 to 38 percent), though self-described moderates agreed with opponents by a 44 percent to 40 percent margin.

Only 8 percent of voters believed Nevada schools had improved in quality over the last two years, with 36 percent saying they had stayed the same and 38 percent saying they declined in quality.

Though all demographic groups thought public schools hadn’t improved over the last two years, self-identified Republicans were more likely to say schools had declined in quality (47 percent) than Democrats (33 percent) or Independents (34 percent).

Voters were more likely to say that the $1.3 billion in new and extended taxes primarily funding K-12 education and passed by Nevada lawmakers during the 2015 session was a step in the right direction — 60 percent said it was a step in the right direction with 26 percent saying it was a step in the wrong direction.

Democrats were much more likely to say the funding increase was a step in the right direction (70 to 15 percent) compared to other demographic groups, though Republicans still thought the tax increase was a positive step forward by a double digit margin (49 to 36 percent.)

Voters under 40 were much more likely to think it was a step in the right direction (74 to 16 percent,) while women (62 to 23 percent) were more positive about the tax increase than men (57 to 29 percent.)

The poll of 600 likely voters was conducted with live interviewers between Jan. 12 and 15, and has a margin of error of 4 percent, with a 95 percent level of confidence.

The Mellman Group is an opinion research firm that has done polling for former Sen. Harry Reid, Rep. Steney Hoyer and other political and corporate clients, including many in Nevada. FiveThirtyEight gives the group a “B” grade in their ranking of pollsters and says their polls historically tilt slightly Democratic.

The Nevada Independent will release more poll results throughout the week, including details on how Nevada voters feel about the pending repeal of the Affordable Care Act. Full poll results and crosstabs will be published on Sunday.


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