Resolute Square

NEW POLL! The GOP's Latest Third Rail

Affirming A Hunch on Education Thuggery
Published:November 1, 2023

*Published with the generous permission of David Pepper. Read and watch his excellent work at Pepperspectives.

By David Pepper

Stick with me to the end on this one. You will be glad you did…

I watched an interview a few weeks ago, and it was the last straw:

Ohio’s Lt. Governor (a guy named Jon Husted) was trying to defend his and the Governor’s thuggish, Jim Crow-style takeover of the powers of the Ohio School Board, some of whose members are directly elected by the people. And he could not have been more arrogant or less persuasive, especially when you know that he was the official most responsible for bringing Ohio one of the largest scandals in our history—where a for-profit “school” and big donor of his scammed Ohio taxpayers out of millions in public school dollars that went into that company’s hands instead (as well the campaign coffers of the now Lt. Gov. and others who facilitated it all).

But then I watched the second half of the show. A second interview, with an actual member of the State School Board, elected by the people and, in this case, a parent of public school students. Her name is Michelle Newman:

And she was absolutely phenomenal. (You can watch it all here when you have a few minutes).

And I thought, this isn’t even close. If the people of Ohio were asked if they trusted the defensive, stammering and repetitive Lt. Governor to oversee education, or Michelle Newman, a public school mom who got elected by the people, my hunch was that they’d prefer the school board member. And it wouldn’t even be close.

But rather than just concluding that myself, since this was my last straw, I decided I’d confirm my hunch.

So I arranged for a POLL to test my hypothesis…and boy did I turn out to be right. To a stunning degree. And what I discovered spells one hell of an opportunity.Read on to see what I found…

The Poll

I know there are many doubts and caveats about polls these days. Especially horse race ones. But done the right way, they can still be helpful in gauging opinion on public issues. I think you’ll see that this one is definitely helpful.
A group called PPP did the poll. They dialed and heard from 638 Ohio voters. Here’s what they found more broadly—the good, the bad and the ugly:

First, the sample leaned Republican (41%R-32%D), and reflected the 2020 Presidential turnout:

  • 50% said they had voted for Trump for President; 42% for Biden (which actually was Trump’s margin of victory in 2020)

Second, with this group, Biden has work to do in Ohio:

  • 38% of those called approve of Biden’s performance57% disapprove

We then asked these voters their views on major current issues, including measures on the ballot at the moment.

We asked them about how they would vote on Issue 1—the language here is important, so you can look at it below for yourself; you’ll see it approximates the first sentences voters will read on the ballot but doesn't get into all the details that appear later:

  • These voters, hearing the language presented, supported Issue 1, 55%-38%.
  • (I believe that all the attack ads and disinformation have made this narrower in reality—so keep fighting until the end—but clearly, Ohio remains a pro-choice state.)

We asked them about how they would vote on Issue 2—the measure that would legalize recreational marijuana

  • These voters supported Issue 2, 59%-39%.

We asked them about “a campaign in Ohio to create an independent commission, made up of Ohio citizens and not politicians, to draw fair congressional and state legislative district lines. Would you support or oppose a ballot amendment to create an independent commission to draw congressional and legislative lines?

  • These voters supported that proposed amendment, 57%-15%.

We asked them about an amendment to raise the minimum wage to $15/hour.

  • These voters supported that proposed amendment, 53%-36%.

Interestingly, these are some really big issues where a consistent majority of Ohioans take the opposite side from the people locked into power in Ohio. Says a lot, doesn’t it.

But there’s also a clear pattern. On these big issues, Ohioans seem to break 50s to 30s, or less. Nothing above 60.
With one exception. Which gets me back to the issue that sparked the poll in the first place:

What do these voters think of DeWine, Husted and the GOP Statehouse ripping the power over education decisions away from the State School Board?

We asked two questions.

First, we asked: “The state of Ohio recently passed a bill to abolish the State Board of Education, whose members are directly voted on by Ohio voters, and instead have the Governor control major school and education decisions behind closed doors. Do you support or oppose this?”

Any guesses as to how they responded?

50s against and 30s for, like the other ones? Higher?

Or perhaps more evenly split…after all, Governor DeWine won reelection by 25 points a year ago, so maybe having a public official they just voted for play this role is more popular than these other issues.

Um…not so much.

74% Oppose It.

It turns out—74% of these voters oppose the idea!

How many support it?

Only 13%

That’s right… 74%-13%, voters oppose the Governor taking away the State School Board’s power!

There are almost no issues left in our polarized America where so many voters are so on the same page. But Mike DeWine, Jon Husted and our rigged GOP statehouse have managed to embrace it in their thuggish takeover of the state school board. And yes, the disapproval of this terrible idea is across the board:

  • Democrats oppose it, 85%-9%
  • Independents oppose it, 75%-11%
  • Republicans oppose it, 64%-19%

Unity at last. Speaking of:

  • Men oppose it (69-15) and women oppose it (79-11)
  • 2020 Trump voters oppose it (64-16) and 2020 Biden voters oppose it (84-10)
  • White voters oppose it (73-13) and Black voters oppose it (76-20)
  • All age groups oppose it to almost the exact same degree

But I’m not done. Because we asked these voters one other question.

We asked them the same question I asked myself when I watched Husted and Michelle Newman both get interviewed on that show:
“Who do you trust more to make decisions on education curriculum and teaching strategies for Ohio children: the Governor and his cabinet, or the State Board of Education, whose members are elected by the voters?”

Remember, Mike DeWine was just reelected by 25 points!

But who did they trust here?

By 68%-12%(!), they trust the State Board of Eduction with those decisions. Michelle Newman, Teresa Fedor, and their fellow board members!

Not the far better known Governor, Husted, and their cabinet. Watch the interviews and you'll see why.

But most Ohioans didn’t see that interview, yet that was still their instinct!

And once again, this strong preference was shared across all demographics: party, Trump- or Biden-voter, gender, race, age, etc.
Finally, we asked two final questions you’ll find interesting.

One, we asked: “Do you think Ohio politicians and the Ohio government are corrupt, or not?”

A plurality (43%-28%) said yes, so all the corruption stories and trials are beginning to break through.

Second, we asked: “Generally speaking, do you think things in Ohio are heading in the right direction, or the wrong direction?”

A plurality (46%-32%) said they are going in the wrong direction.

The Takeaway: Make Some Noise and Run Everywhere!

What’s the takeaway from all these numbers?

Generally, it’s that the people of Ohio sense that something is wrong. There’s corruption in the air, and things aren’t going in the right direction. And on most of the major issues being debated at the moment, they are on the opposite side of the current GOP leaders of Ohio. They don’t trust them. As with Issue 1 in August, they don’t want them to have too much power.

And nowhere are Ohio’s GOP leaders more on the wrong side of the people than the School Board takeover. You will rarely if ever see an issue as toxic in a poll. So much more split than all the other issues. All sides united in their opposition.

The more I’ve thought about it—and I thought this going into the poll—the takeover combines what offended Ohioans so much about Issue 1 in August (the direct attack on their vote) with a public function (the education of their kids) they hold dear, and which they view as anchored in local and their decisionmaking. Add those two things together, and people across the board are appalled by what DeWine, Husted and the statehouse are doing.

So now that we’re all in on the secret as to how horribly unpopular this idea is, what do we do?

  • Make more noise than ever about it. When the other side has embraced a third rail, point it out again and again. Write letters to the editor, post on-line, encourage reporters you know to write about it. Don’t let it go away.
  • Support those fighting the good fight to turn this around (like the parents’ who are suing to stop it, the elected school board members fighting back in their meetings, and organizations who have been fighting it as well), and those drawing as much attention to it everywhere. Invite those state school board members or organizations to your meetings and have them talk about it. And so on.
  • And, run everywhere!

Every Republican member of the statehouse voted for an idea that is despised across the board, including by their own voters. Run against them, and point it out every day of the campaign. Not running against them when they’ve voted for something this unpopular is a gift we can not give!

But take the issue higher than that.

Jon Husted thinks he’ll be the next Governor, something we can not allow to happen. Bring this up everywhere he goes, as well the fact that this change enables the guy (him) who brought us the ECOT scandal and the explosion of vouchers to our state to do even more of that damage behind closed doors. (Heck, he just handed Republicans running against him in the GOP primary an enormous issue to beat him with.)

But don’t stop there. Ask every Republican member of Congress about it. Do they agree with this toxic idea? Or do they think the voters should get to vote on education issues? My guess is they will not want to embrace the stance that only 13% of the voters agree with. Ask JD Vance, even.

Make them all take a position.

They have embraced a third rail. Make sure they own it every day going forward.

FYI: Here are all the questions and answers:

Be sure people know…