The White House’s hard push for school reopenings appears to have failed to gain traction — and may be losing support the closer we get to the school year. A new Morning Consult poll shows that the majority which opposed it last month has grown, which threatens not just the economic recovery on which Donald Trump counts but also its Phase 4 relief proposal.
A majority also opposes opening daycare centers, which means parents must be getting more comfortable with the idea of staying home with children — regardless of finances:
A growing majority of voters oppose the Trump administration’s demand that schools and colleges fully open for in-person instruction, according to a new POLITICO/Morning Consult poll.
In the survey of nearly 2,000 registered voters, 59 percent said they oppose fully reopening K-12 schools for the beginning of the academic year. Those numbers are up from polling last month that showed 53 percent opposed.
With slightly less resistance to the idea of in-person learning for younger and older students, 56 percent of respondents said this month that they are against fully reopening daycares, in contrast to 53 percent in July’s survey. For reopening colleges and universities, 57 percent said they were opposed, up from 50 percent in the previous poll.
While Senate Republicans have proposed setting aside tens of billions of dollars in new funding for schools that reopen, pluralities of registered voters believe federal money for schools should neither be increased nor decreased, regardless of whether they open virtually or for in-person instruction.
The crosstabs on this are not pleasant for the Trump administration either. Only 33% of voters overall support reopening K-12 schools, split evenly between strong and somewhat support. Forty-one percent strongly oppose it, making this much more emphatic and emotional than support for reopening. The few demos that have a majority supporting the reopening of schools are generally linked to the GOP — either explicitly Republican demos or those who approve of the job Trumps doing, and even that support is soft — 54/37 for the latter. Otherwise, there is no appetite for reopening K-12 schools; even Trump’s loyal evangelical demo narrowly opposes it 43/48.
The administration has tried to push reopening for purposes of equality, arguing that minority and poor children will be hardest hit by extended school closings. Thus far, that message isn’t resonating either. Black voters oppose reopening 20/70, Hispanics oppose it 21/67, and white voters pretty much follow the toplines at 35/56. Voters earning less than $50K score it 29/61 with 44% strongly opposed.
Given these numbers, it seems very clear that the American public still considers the COVID-19 pandemic its top priority, even over the economy and education. The White House has been slow to grasp this, even though the data has been clear since the first days of the pandemic on this point. The return of the daily briefings last month suggested that the administration had begun to figure this out, and now they need to recalculate their approach to education and the economy with this in mind.
The best approach would be to shift away from pressuring school districts to reopen and to find a way to use those aid dollars in helping parents educate students at home. This might be a good time to boost high-speed internet access in poorer neighborhoods, for instance, to allow teachers to connect with low-income students. Some of that money could go to online alternatives to the local school districts too, a form of private education in a distance-learning model. Perhaps some could also go to developing those alternatives and new curricula to improve the efficiency of learning, or expanded access to electronic textbooks and support material. That could make parental reluctance work for Trump’s priorities, rather than work against them.
One thing is certain, however — Trump and his team need to start getting ahead of the public rather than remaining constantly trailing behind it.
Update: I wrote “last year” in the first paragraph when I meant “last month.” Sorry for the error; it’s now fixed.