Who wants school vouchers? Rich whites and poor nonwhites

As part of our Red State, Blue State research, we developed statistical tools for estimating public opinion among subsets of the population. Recently Yu-Sung Su, Yair Ghitza, and I applied these methods to see where school vouchers are more or less popular.

We started with the 2000 National Annenberg Election Survey, which had responses from about 50,000 randomly-sampled Americans to the question: “Give tax credits or vouchers to help parents send their children to private schools–should the federal government do this or not?” 45% of those who expressed an opinion on this question said yes, but the percentage varied a lot by state, income level, and religious/ethnic group; These maps show our estimates:


(Click on image to see larger version.)

Vouchers are most popular among high-income white Catholics and Evangelicals and low-income Hispanics. In general, among white groups, the higher the income, the more popular are school vouchers. But among nonwhites, it goes the other way, with vouchers being popular in the lower income categories but then becoming less popular among the middle class.

You can also see that support for vouchers roughly matches Republican voting, but not completely. Vouchers are popular in the heavily Catholic Northeast and California, less so in many of the mostly Protestant states in the Southeast. We also see a regional pattern among African Americans, where vouchers are most popular outside the South.

We checked our results by fitting the same model to the Annenberg survey from 2004, and, much to our relief, we found similar patterns:

In 2004, 52% of respondents supported vouchers, but it’s difficult to make a direct comparison to the 2000 survey because the question was worded differently: instead of yes/no, it was, “The federal government giving tax credits or vouchers to help parents send their children to private schools–do you favor or oppose the federal government doing this?” with five possible responses. We counted the two positive responses as Yes, the two negative responses as No, and discarded the 30% or responses in the middle category. The total Yes/(Yes+No) was 52%. Anyway, here’s what we found when breaking up by state, income, and religion/ethnicity. Again, colors are relative to the national average:


(Click on image to see larger version.)

In checking these results, we made a series of plots showing raw data and fitted models. Here’s one of the sets of graphs, just to give a sense of what we did:


(Click on image to see larger version.)

Finally, all estimates were adjusted to the estimated population of voters, using our voter turnout analysis from the 2008 Current Population Survey post-election supplement and American Community Survey data. We’ll write this up in detail at some point. It would be best for us to redo 2000 and 2004 using the voter turnout estimates for those years, but we haven’t gotten around to putting those numbers together yet. I don’t think it will make much of a difference.

Also, I don’t think the labels on the income categories are exactly right for 2000 and 2004. I realize I was taking income categories from a different poll. We need to look up the categories from the Annenberg surveys.

8 thoughts on “Who wants school vouchers? Rich whites and poor nonwhites

  1. This is a very interesting report. Thank you for polling the subject.

    Were you able to tell from the Hispanic responses how many were recent immigrants with school age first generation (or immigrant) children? I would think that the public school systems in their country of origin would have an impact on their decision – as would the availablility of church schools versus secular private.

    The majority of responses are from states with high immigration from Mexico, which has a poor public educational system according to OECD reports. Further, Florida's primary Hispanic groups come from island countries with poor educational systems or from Cuba. Cuban attitudes are likely skewed by political beliefs and antigovernment attitudes.


    Bob Sharak

  2. I like the grid of maps as a way to explore the data, but I keep looking for an "all incomes" column just like the "all voters" row that is at the top. I know the race/ethnic/religious groups are not going to be equally distributed amongst the income categories, if I had an "all incomes" category I could see if the white evangelicals as a whole looked more like the map on the right or more like the map on the left.

    Perhaps after seeing it I would find they all look like the center maps/income levels, but without seeing that I don't know.

  3. What is the correlation between support of school vouchers and availability of Catholic schools? Based on Wisconsin where a lot of support for vouchers came from Catholics who were struggling to keep their parish schools open, this look like the same thing. Strong Catholic school support would explain some of your results.

  4. These comments were interesting. It's not difficult to understand why many poorer nonwhites support school vouchers; they often live in areas where the public schools are quite frankly bad. I worked for years in poor inner city areas and the public schools are grossly underfunded there. Catholic schools have offered a better education. To suggest that many of these poor are Hispanic immigrants who support school vouchers simply because they assume the local American schools must be as bad as the schools in their native land without checking them out for themselves is kind of insulting to them.

    And many older Catholics in these urban areas keep these Catholic schools open (at great expense to themselves) even though their own children and grand children have left for the suburbs knowing it could be of value to the the nonwhite (black and Hispanic) poor. Let's give credit where credit is due!

    I know that anti-Catholicism is still considered an acceptable bigotry in this so-called great U.S. of A, but I'm getting sick of it be it from the right or left. A nation full of such bigotry will never really be progressive.

  5. According to the U.S. Department of Education, approximately 10% of all students are currently enrolled in private schools.

    If a voucher system was adopted, and NOT ONE single student were to switch from a public to a private school, it would nonetheless cause a massive shift of approximately 10% of all school tax funding away from the public schools into the coffers of private schools.

    I have never seen anyone who favors vouchers also call for a simultaneous 10% increase in school taxation in order to fund their scheme. Nor do they ever address how the public schools are supposed to absorb such a draconian budget cut.

    Until the funding issue is addressed, there is no other conclusion that can be drawn except that those who support a voucher system are attempting to cripple public education in the United States of America.

  6. FL Counselor,

    You are wrong. I know personally of many individuals that attend public school because its free.

    The state should get out of the school monopoly business. Give each student a stipend and let that student's family give it to the school of their school.

    Competition is good for the economy. It will be good for education.

  7. Jake,

    You missed the entire point. I made no effort to make the quality of private v. public education, because they are designed to do totally different things. So I'll leave those judgments up to you.

    My comment simply illustrates how that before even one student would switch schools, vouchers would reduce current funding to public schools by 10% without reducing the number of students who attend. Capiche?

    Now, please read for comprehension:

    The point is that the 10% of students who currently attend private schools would also receive vouchers. Since they do not currently attend public schools, this would result in an immediate shift 10% of tax dollars from public schools to private schools.

    How would you make up this deficit to the public schools in order to fund the private schools? I would guess you are not willing to raise school taxes 10%.

    BTW, I attended private schools all my life, and work as a Guidance Counselor at a private school.

  8. But Florida Counselor you have to consider that public schools losing market share (i.e. students) would have fewer students enrolled meaning that their costs of operation would be reduced (fewer teachers needed, fewer principals, so on and so forth). Most education costs are not sunk. At least 50 percent if not upwards of 70 percent of K-12 school spending is spent on teacher salary and benefits.

    I take your point if no one switched. But do you honestly think no students would switch if they were offered a voucher? The results in Milwaukee and elsewhere suggest otherwise where there are waiting lists to get into a voucher school.

    Also you assume that K-12 spending is stagnant. The truth is public school enrollment is down in many states but K-12 funding has been going up, more teachers keep getting hired to lower class sizes (research wise a dubious reform at best), and yet the U.S. continues to be near the top of OECD countries in K-12 spending per student. Yes we perform terribly compared to the rest of the world on international assessments like PISA and TIMMS. Why is this?

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