With the 2016 election season heating up, a new bipartisan poll released yesterday by the First Five Years Fund makes a convincing case that candidates for public office would be wise to advocate for increased investment in early childhood education for infants, toddlers, and pre-kindergartners. The poll finds that 76 percent of voters express support for a proposal that would provide 10 billion federal dollars per year for 10 years in state grants to provide low- and middle-income four-year-olds with access to high quality pre-K programs.
At a time when partisan polarization seems to have reached a fever pitch, what’s surprising about the poll results is just how bipartisan the support for investment in early education seems to be. The 76 percent of poll respondents who express support for increased federal investment in early childhood education include 59 percent of Republicans, 69 percent of Independents, and 94 percent of Democrats. Majorities of every partisan persuasion also express support for making early education and child care more affordable, helping states and local communities build better pre-K services, improving early learning programs for infants and toddlers, and providing home visiting and parent education programs to first-time parents.
More than two-thirds of voters express the belief that children currently enter kindergarten lacking the skills and knowledge needed for success. And despite the current climate of fiscal austerity, 74 percent of poll respondents express support for increased early childhood investment even if it increases the deficit in the short-term but pays for itself in the long-term. Multiple studies have shown that this is completely plausible because the return on investment for early childhood education is so high: the programs pay for themselves in the long run by improving children’s education, health, and economic situations so that less government spending is needed later.
A few other findings stand out from the poll results that should grab the attention of candidates running for public office. Fifty-four percent of voters report that they would feel more favorable towards a candidate who supports increased federal investment in early childhood education as opposed to only six percent of voters who would think less favorably of a candidate who supports such investment. Finally, a majority of the most critical swing voter groups report feeling more favorable towards candidates who back increased investment in early education, including Hispanics, Millennials, moderates, and Independent women.
This new poll makes clear there is widespread, bipartisan support for increased investment in high-quality early childhood programs. At a time when many presidential candidates are struggling to build a winning coalition, candidates would be wise to start talking more about one issue that Americans can agree on regardless of party: the importance of early childhood education.