Roosevelt Institute | Cornell University

Education: A Hot Topic? Not for the GOP

By Emily SilfkinPublished January 1, 2017

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Education should be on every candidate's mind as they are moving through this election cycle. With a system in desperate need of reform, it is vital that our presidential candidates relay to the public their plans for improving education in this country. However, the GOP has been shy in telling debate viewers their plans for education reform, while reform is a major tenet of Democratic campaigns.
Abstract: Education should be on every candidate's mind as they are moving through this election cycle. With a system in desperate need of reform, it is vital that our presidential candidates relay to the public their plans for improving education in this country. However, the GOP has been shy in telling debate viewers their plans for education reform, while reform is  a major tenet of Democratic campaigns.

With the upcoming presidential election coming up there are many important topics that have been discussed by the candidates during debates and for which policy plans that have been laid out: national security, the economy, and entitlement reform. However, there is one major topic that the GOP continuously ignores: education. As of February 4th, in 11 debates, GOP candidates have only mentioned education 14 times, whereas Democratic candidates have mentioned education more than three dozen times. This is not to say that Republicans do not have opinions on education hidden in the depths of their campaign websites. However, this is rarely a topic that the party promotes to its constituents. This indicates that education might not be a priority for the GOP if they do win the election, or if it's an issue that will be put on the backburner.

An improved economy depends on a more educated workforce and students leaving college debt-free. For a party that puts such an emphasis on the economy, why do they not discuss it more? One could reason that perhaps Republican voters don't care as much about education as other topics. Data has shown that only 4% of Republican voters say education is the issue most important to them, whereas 13 % of Democrats believe education is the most pressing issue. This is a large difference from the 34% of Republicans that believe terrorism is the most pressing issue this election cycle, something candidates have obviously been catering towards. Additionally, as seen in Bernie Sanders' campaign, which has touted free public college for all and has attracted a large following of young people, discussing education more could be a way for Republican candidates to attract the young vote. One reason that Republicans don't mention education more might be that it can often be an expensive policy issue to handle, as seen by Hillary Clinton's plans for education reform. Expensive programs might not sit well with the Republican electorate. Another reason that Republican might not mention education on the national stage is that they believe it should be left to the states, hardly an issue that an executive could take action on.

The times that education has been mentioned in Republican debates, rarely is a solution offered for building the 21st century workforce that is needed. Governor Mike Huckabee, who has since dropped out of the race, insisted that there was no reason for the Department of Education and that power should be shifted back to the states. Former Governor Jeb Bush rescinded his previously positive opinions on the Common Core standards in favor of high standards at the state level. He has mentioned his previous success in Florida, but has failed to offer a solution to improving education on a federal scale. Likewise, Marco Rubio has also shown support for curriculum reform, but has not expanded on his plans during debates. It seems that the GOP is ignoring the issue of education on a public platform as to appeal to an electorate that does not believe in an expanded federal government, although candidates do offer plans on their websites. One cause of this could be that the general public does not actually look into the issues in depth, rather they take candidate's words at face value, and the candidates known this and use it to their advantage.