Graphic Courtesy of the First Five Years Fund
Graphic Courtesy of the First Five Years Fund

Last week, the First Five Years Fund (FFYF) released findings from its latest national public opinion poll on investing in young children. The result: widespread, bipartisan support for early childhood education.

“Seventy-one percent of voters — including 60 percent of Republicans — support greater investment in early childhood education if it increased the deficit in the short-term, but paid for itself in the long-term by improving children’s education, health, and economic situations so that less spending is needed in the future,” according to a fact sheet that explains the poll results.

“An overwhelming majority of Americans from diverse political and demographic backgrounds support federal action on early childhood education,” Kris Perry, the executive director of the First Five Years Fund said in a news release. “They understand its return on investment. They demand that Congress fund programs that meet high-quality standards. And, they want to invest now.”

The results build on the polling that the fund did last year, when it found comparable public support for doing more to ensure that children have the skills they need for kindergarten.

Public Opinion Strategies and Hart Research conducted the poll. The results are based on telephone surveys of 800 voters across the country on landlines and cell phones from May 28 to June 1, 2014. The survey has “an overall margin of error of +/- 3.4 percent.” And the poll’s sample is “demographically representative of the electorate,” according to the fact sheet.

Specific Poll Findings

“Voters place children getting a strong start in life as one of the highest national priorities,” the fact sheet says, adding, “85 percent say this is important, second only to increasing jobs and economic growth, ranking it far above reducing the tax burden on families (63 percent).” And, “Making sure that working parents can find quality affordable child care ranked as the fourth most important issue at 67 percent.”

“Seven in ten American voters support a proposal that would increase federal investment to help states provide more access to high-quality early childhood programs for low- and moderate-income families.”

“Over two-thirds of voters say that Congress and the Obama administration should make early childhood education a legislative priority. Over three-quarters of Americans (76 percent) want Congress to act on this early childhood education proposal this year or next year; only 19 percent feel it should not be pursued.”

“Overwhelming majorities of key voter groups support this plan for federal investment in early childhood education:”

• 60% Republicans

• 68% Independents

• 84% Democrats

• 80% of Hispanics

• 72% of suburban women

Poll Results in Context

The FFYF held an event at the National Press Club called “AMERICA SPEAKS: Grow America stronger with early childhood education” to discuss the poll results.

“This is an issue that has calcified in many people’s minds as something that’s important,” Kevin Madden, a Republican political campaign strategist and former press secretary for Mitt Romney’s 2008 presidential campaign, said at the event, according to the Washington Post. “Voters believe this is a critical investment at a critical time.”

And Jim Messina, who managed President Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign, agreed, saying: “There is a national consensus around this issue except in the 10-mile square, logic-free zone that we call Washington, D.C.”

The Washington Post adds that Madden and Messina also agreed that “the strong support for early childhood investment is a reflection of the deep anxiety people are feeling about the economy and the future direction of the country. They said that given the widespread support among voters, early childhood education is likely to continue to be part of candidates’ platforms in the 2014 midterm elections and the 2016 presidential race.”

EdCentral, a New America Foundation blog, summed up the results with this headline: “Federal Action Lags Behind Public Opinion on Early Ed.”

The blog notes that, “while we might expect voters’ support for early education policies would diminish once they see the price tag—a common reason that policies popular in theory don’t become a reality—it doesn’t appear to be the case here.”

The blog offers its own summary of the National Press Club event and concludes: “The evidence base on early education is growing by the day and public support is at an unprecedented high—we just need policymakers to show us the money. And they need to figure out how to do it soon, because this is an issue candidates will not be able to ignore in the upcoming elections.”

Steve Barnett, director of the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER), also blogged about the polling results, highlighting “policy pitfalls” that must be avoided as pre-k gains political support.

“Despite strong, broadly based support for government action, the public is also committed to reducing the tax burden on families. Support for a major new federal investment drops sharply, and I suspect does not succeed with the Republican base, if funded by even a targeted tax increase.” Barnett also raises concerns about program quality, which is expensive but must be built into any pre-k expansion to produce long-term benefits for children.

Sharing the Poll Results

FFYF has posted poll infographics and other resources on its website. There’s also a Contact Congress feature: just type in your zip code and the site provides the names and phone numbers of your Congressional representatives along with buttons to send them emails, tweets, or Facebook messages.

So help spread the word that across the country, a majority of voters want more action on early education. And be sure that Congress, among others, can hear you.