Ray Carter | March 2, 2022
School choice ranks with abortion for Oklahoma GOP voters
For years, Oklahoma Republican voters have prioritized pro-life advocacy when choosing which GOP candidate to support in a primary. But a new poll shows support for school-choice policies now ranks alongside abortion for state Republicans.
“On the whole, Oklahoma Republican primary voters are more supportive of school choice than say they are pro-life,” wrote Pat McFerron, president of Cole Hargrave Snodgrass & Associates, in the latest edition of his firm’s “Sooner Survey” publication.
The poll described school choice as giving parents “the right to use tax dollars associated with their child’s education to send their child to the public or private school which better serves their needs.”
Based on that description, 65 percent of all respondents said they favor school choice with 43 percent strongly in favor. Support was even stronger among Republican voters with 78 percent favoring school choice.
McFerron noted support has steadily increased in Oklahoma in recent years. In 2018, his polling showed 56 percent of Oklahoma voters favored school choice and those favoring school choice outnumbered opponents by 17 percentage points. Today, that margin is more than twice as large with supporters outnumbering opponents by 39 percentage points.
Notably, support for school choice includes groups often portrayed as opponents.
“While school administrators and others want to paint school choice as an enemy of rural Oklahoma, voters in those areas do not buy it,” McFerron wrote. “In fact, those living in the 71 counties outside the OKC and Tulsa metros are among the most supportive of school choice (70% favor vs. 25% oppose).”
McFerron noted that “another myth being perpetrated is that public school employees oppose school choice.”
Among poll respondents currently working in schools, there was an even split between school-choice supporters and opponents. Among respondents who have a family member working in a school, 57 percent support school choice.
“It is clear there is a disconnect between the message coming from union leadership and school administrators and the actual school employees,” McFerron said.
When asked who should have the most say in a child’s education, parents or education professionals, 73 percent of Oklahoma Republican voters said parents should have the most sway.
The poll’s findings indicate school-choice support could be a defining issue in this year’s Oklahoma elections, McFerron said, as has already been the case in other states’ elections.
“Prior to the pandemic, and prior to the parent revolution over issues such as CRT and who is fundamentally in control of a child’s education, school choice had majority support in Oklahoma and strong support among Republicans,” McFerron wrote. “Now support for using tax dollars to send a child to a school setting that best serves them—including private or parochial schools—is even stronger, reaching 65% among all voters and 78% among Republicans. The impact of this issue on elections was realized at the polls in last year’s Virginia elections and Oklahoma seems poised to take the same approach in 2022.”
The poll of 500 registered Oklahoma voters was conducted Jan. 10 and Jan. 17-21 and was commissioned by the American Federation for Children.
Director, Center for Independent Journalism
Ray Carter is the director of OCPA’s Center for Independent Journalism. He has two decades of experience in journalism and communications. He previously served as senior Capitol reporter for The Journal Record, media director for the Oklahoma House of Representatives, and chief editorial writer at The Oklahoman. As a reporter for The Journal Record, Carter received 12 Carl Rogan Awards in four years—including awards for investigative reporting, general news reporting, feature writing, spot news reporting, business reporting, and sports reporting. While at The Oklahoman, he was the recipient of several awards, including first place in the editorial writing category of the Associated Press/Oklahoma News Executives Carl Rogan Memorial News Excellence Competition for an editorial on the history of racism in the Oklahoma legislature.