Countdown to EDlection2018: As Midterms Approach, Here’s What the Latest Polls Show in 16 Key Races With Big Stakes for Schools
Revised/Upgraded Election 2018: From one coast to another, is showcasing a fresh campaign centered around education every week. You can find all our recent profiles, previews, and reactions at The74Million.org/Election (and keep an eye out for our live blog on Election Night, Nov. 6).
The past two years in American politics have been a wild ride, and this has had an impact on education policy as well. From the controversial appointment of Betsy DeVos as the education secretary to intense debates about school safety following multiple mass shootings, education has been a topic of contention.
With the midterm elections just around the corner, voters now have the opportunity to consider these policy choices and decide if they want a change.
On many fronts, the nation remains as divided as it was when President Trump unexpectedly won the 2016 election. There have been predictions of a "blue wave" that could result in the election of more Democrats to Congress, governor’s mansions, and statehouses across the country, but many polls still indicate a close race.
For those interested in education, the midterm elections could bring about significant changes in federal education policy, at least in one chamber of Congress. At the state level, a blue wave could impact everything from funding to education reform.
It is increasingly likely that there will be a change in Congress, as Democrats strive to regain control of the House. They need to secure 23 seats to achieve a majority, and analysts at the usually reliable website FiveThirtyEight predict that they will gain about 40 seats.
According to the average of generic ballot polls, which inquire about a preference for Democrats or Republicans without considering specific candidates, the Democrats currently have an 8.3 percentage point lead in the House as of October 31st. A Democratic majority would signify a complete shift in education policy, starting with stringent oversight of the Education Department.
While the Democrats seem to have a good chance in the House, their hopes of regaining control of the Senate have diminished based on recent key battleground polls.
Democratic incumbents in Indiana, Missouri, and Florida – Joe Donnelly, Claire McCaskill, and Bill Nelson respectively – have received disheartening poll results. Democrats absolutely must retain these three seats in order to have any chance of regaining control.
Although the federal races are the center of attention for the national media, state races, particularly governor’s races, will have a greater impact on K-12 policy in the education world. The outcomes of the midterms could have far-reaching implications for education reform in states like Colorado, Michigan, and Nevada. In other states such as Iowa, Kansas, and Oregon, it could signal significant changes in school funding. This election is also important for educators, as many teachers are running for office across the country. Notable candidates include a former National Teacher of the Year, who is contesting a congressional race in Connecticut, and Wisconsin’s education chief, who is vying for the position of governor.
Democrats aim to make gains in the Midwest.
WISCONSIN: The Midwestern states collectively present the most promising region for Democrats, who have the potential to win as many as five governor’s races in Big 10 country. In Wisconsin, where incumbent governor and controversial figure Scott Walker is running for an unusual third term, Democrats could enjoy a major victory on election night.
After weakening teachers unions and reducing public school funding during his initial years in office, Walker now finds himself locked in a tight race with state Superintendent Tony Evers.
There were doubts regarding whether the amiable Evers could keep up with Walker, a formidable campaigner who has previously won three statewide races. However, polls indicate that the state’s top education authority has a slight advantage heading into the final week. A Thomson Reuters poll released on October 24th showed Evers with a three-point lead, while a Marist/NBC survey from earlier in the month had Evers ahead by eight points. Local experts believe that the race could be much closer, though.
Alan Borsuk, a long-time Wisconsin observer for the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel who initially doubted Evers’s chances, has been impressed by the Democrat’s ability to go toe-to-toe with Walker.
While the race has brought attention to a state-level schools official in a year when education funding has been a major campaign issue, Borsuk notes that the fate of Wisconsin schools hasn’t dominated the candidates’ debates.
MICHIGAN: Democrats in Michigan have historically had an advantage in the governor’s race and they may have the opportunity to gain control of the state legislature as well, allowing them to reverse some of the education reforms supported by Michigander DeVos.
Gretchen Whitmer, a former state senator and Democrat, is leading Republican Attorney General Bill Schuette by an average of 8.2 points, according to RealClearPolitics. More recent polls from Michigan Information and Research Service and the Detroit Free Press have narrowed that margin to five points, but Cook Political Report still considers the race to be in favor of Whitmer.
Although the focus of the race has been on Republicans like current Governor Rick Snyder and President Donald Trump, there has also been a significant debate over Michigan’s charter schools and education funding in recent years. Whitmer has promised to impose more restrictions on the state’s lightly regulated charter sector, while Schuette has defended DeVos’s work as an education activist in the state.
OHIO: Ohio’s gubernatorial race is one of the closest in the country. Democrat Richard Cordray, a former state Attorney General, has been in a dead heat with Attorney General Mike DeWine, who unseated Cordray in 2010. Ohio, known as a bellwether state, has shifted its support from George W. Bush to Barack Obama and then to Donald Trump. At the state level, however, it has consistently leaned Republican, with only one Democratic governor elected since 1986.
Similar to Michigan, charter schools have played a significant role in the campaign in Ohio. The closure of the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT), a large online charter school, due to fraud allegations has put Republicans like DeWine in the spotlight, as they have received substantial donations from the organization in the past.
Recent polls have shown a close race with Cordray having a three-point lead according to a poll by Emerson College, which also showed a significant advantage among female voters. However, a survey by Baldwin Wallace University the next day indicated a near tie, with DeWine leading Cordray by just 0.6 points.
SOUTH DAKOTA: The gubernatorial race in South Dakota demonstrates both the potential and limitations of Democratic energy in 2018. Although the state hasn’t elected a Democratic governor since 1974, Senate Minority Leader Billie Sutton is tied with Republican Congresswoman Kristi Noem in the most recent poll by the Argus Leader, the state’s largest newspaper.
Due to the lack of polling in small states like South Dakota, the race’s outcome may not be accurately determined until Election Day. A Sutton victory would be a sign of a successful Democratic midterm, but the newly elected governor would still face challenges due to the conservative leaning of the state. Republicans are expected to maintain veto-proof majorities in both the state Senate and House.
According to David Wiltse, a professor of politics at South Dakota State University, even if Sutton wins, Republicans would still have significant influence over legislative outcomes. Sutton’s plans to implement a state-funded pre-K option and provide tuition refunds for teachers in underserved areas would likely face obstacles without support from the state GOP.
IOWA: Democrat Fred Hubbell currently holds a slight lead of just 2 points over Republican incumbent Governor Kim Reynolds in Iowa, and polling has been limited with the last one conducted in mid-September. Most independent analysts consider the race to be a toss-up.
Education is a major issue in the race, with 47 percent of voters citing it as one of the top concerns for the next governor, as reported by the Des Moines Register. The main dispute revolves around funding, with Democrats claiming it is insufficient and Republicans stating that funding is at record highs.
Toss-up races across the South
FLORIDA: Democrats in the South are making strong efforts to win governorships that have been held by Republicans for decades, although these races are still considered to be toss-ups. According to polls, Florida could have its first Democratic governor in this millennium, although the race is still closely contested.
"We might not have definitive results on Tuesday night," explained Carol Weissert, the chair of civic education and political science at Florida State University, in an interview with . In the past, Florida’s governor races were decided by a very narrow margin, as were the state’s presidential contests in 2012 and 2016.
A poll conducted by the New York Times and Siena College around the same time showed Gillum leading by about 5 points. Gillum maintains a significant advantage among key Democratic demographics such as women, young people, and black and Hispanic voters.
To win, Gillum needs the support of African Americans, young people, and independent voters. The enthusiasm surrounding Gillum’s campaign could also positively impact other Democratic candidates, including incumbent Senator Nelson and down-ballot races in the state legislature.
Although it might be a challenging task for Democrats, they have the opportunity to gain control over the Florida Senate by winning five seats. This would give the newly elected governor a stronger position for negotiations.
Republicans also have their own advantage with popular Republican Governor Rick Scott running for the U.S. Senate in a close race. This will encourage many Republicans to go out and support down-ballot candidates.
Regarding education, Gillum’s plans include raising teacher salaries to a minimum of $50,000, which would be funded by increasing corporate income taxes and legalizing and taxing marijuana. Although he is skeptical about school choice, Gillum stated in a recent debate that he would not defund charter schools.
On the other hand, DeSantis proposes that 80 percent of education spending should be allocated to classrooms, and he also supports increased spending for the state’s tax credit scholarship program.
Moving on to Georgia, Democrat Stacey Abrams, the former House minority leader, is only two points behind Republican Secretary of State Brian Kemp, as indicated by an NBC News/Marist poll released last week. However, a recent Fox 5 Atlanta poll showed Abrams with a narrow lead.
If elected, Abrams would become the first black female governor in the United States. Her campaign has received significant attention, much like Texas Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke and gubernatorial nominee Gillum. This national spotlight has helped Abrams raise millions of dollars from both within and outside the state.
Nonetheless, any Democratic candidate in Georgia would face a challenging race, since the state hasn’t elected a Democratic governor since 1998. Furthermore, the race has gained more national attention due to allegations that Kemp, Georgia’s top election official, has disproportionately purged thousands of black voters from the rolls leading up to the election.
Both candidates have proposed ambitious education plans that may be difficult to implement. Kemp suggests a permanent $5,000 increase in teacher salaries, while Abrams aims to allocate approximately $300 million for childcare subsidies to low-income families. They also differ on expanding Georgia’s tax credit scholarship program, which Abrams criticizes as a "backdoor voucher program."
In Maine, the sudden withdrawal of independent candidates has shaken up the governor’s race. A recent poll shows Democrat Janet Mills leading her Republican opponent, Shawn Moody, by eight and a half points, as they compete to succeed Republican Governor Paul LePage.
The dynamics of the race changed when independent candidate Alan Caron dropped out, endorsing Mills. Caron had minimal support in the poll, with just over 2 percent. Another independent candidate, Terry Hayes, remains in the race, and approximately 9.5 percent of voters are undecided.
Both Mills and Moody support increasing teacher pay, with a minimum starting salary of $40,000. They also believe that the state’s school finance system needs improvement. Mills commits to meeting a voter-imposed mandate that the state funds 55 percent of K-12 education costs, while Moody suggests analyzing redundant school programs and administrative expenses.
Mills states she would not lift the state’s current limit on charter schools, and she opposes the current stalled A-F school grading system. Moody, on the other hand, supports lifting the cap on charter schools and remains undecided on the school rating system.
Similarly, the race in Alaska experienced a shift when independent incumbent Governor Bill Walker withdrew from the race in mid-October. Walker endorsed Mark Begich, the Democratic candidate and former U.S. senator.
Once the state coffers of Alaska were flourishing due to the high taxes collected from oil production. However, in recent years, the price of oil has significantly decreased, leading to financial difficulties and budget cuts in the state. As a result, education spending has remained stagnant for several years. In a recent debate, Governor Bill Walker and his opponent, Mark Begich, clashed over the issue of school choice.
Moving to the western part of the United States, where Democrats have historically enjoyed significant electoral power, their goal is to retain control of key offices. Colorado has emerged as a model for progressive education reform, with a focus on center-left policies. The state has embraced charter schools and implemented rigorous teacher evaluations, all without resorting to private school vouchers or anti-union measures. In the gubernatorial race, Representative Jared Polis is considered the frontrunner and is expected to become the state’s third consecutive Democratic governor. Seth Masket, a political science professor at the University of Denver, expressed confidence in Polis’s lead. Several polls conducted this fall consistently show Polis ahead by a margin of 7 to 12 percentage points. Of note, unlike other surveys, the poll conducted by the University of Colorado Boulder does not reveal a significant gender gap in voter preferences.
Unlike many races across the country, the Colorado governor’s race has largely focused on local issues rather than being dominated by national politics. Transportation, water concerns, and education funding have been the main topics of discussion. Polis’s background in education and commitment to reform make him a strong candidate for continuing the center-left agenda. He has founded a charter school, supports various educational reforms, and defeated a union-backed candidate in the Democratic primary. Polis’s education platform includes proposals for universal pre-K and full-day kindergarten, as well as changes to the state’s school funding formula. On the other hand, Polis’s opponent, Walker Stapleton, advocates for reducing administrative spending and establishing tax-free accounts for parents to save for educational expenses.
If Democrats regain control of the state Senate, Polis would have more latitude to advance his education agenda. Currently, Republicans hold a two-seat majority in the Senate. Some observers suggest that the division of power has compelled both parties to pursue a more moderate course. However, unified Democratic control could potentially disrupt the cooperative relationship between charter schools and traditional school districts.
In California, Marshall Tuck, a former charter school leader, is leading the race for state superintendent, according to a recent poll from UC Berkeley. Tuck has garnered support from major donors in the education reform movement. His opponent, Anthony Thurmond, has strong backing from unions and has expressed the need for a temporary halt on new charter schools. Interestingly, both candidates are Democrats, as the state’s primary system allows the top two vote-getters to proceed to the general election, regardless of party affiliation. Education policy, particularly pertaining to charters, remains a contentious issue within the California Democratic Party. This divide was evident in the gubernatorial primary when Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom, supported by unions, defeated former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who aligned with education reform.
In Oregon, Democratic incumbent Kate Brown is facing a surprisingly close race for re-election despite the liberal leanings of the state. Recent polls have shown her with a narrow lead, but the results have fluctuated considerably throughout the summer. The rising costs of the state’s pension system, including retirement plans for teachers, have emerged as a significant concern for school districts and local governments. Brown has defended her record on this issue and has proposed a modest employee cost-sharing plan. However, her opponent, Republican Knute Buehler, has outlined specific changes he would make to address the pension crisis and has pledged not to sign any legislation until the issue is resolved.
In Connecticut, former National Teacher of the Year Jahana Hayes, one of many educators running for office this election cycle, appears to be on track for victory in the race for Connecticut’s 5th Congressional District. Despite limited political experience, Hayes defeated a more seasoned candidate in the Democratic primary. She has garnered support from prominent figures within the party, including U.S. Senator Chris Murphy and former Vice President Joe Biden.
The district, commonly known as the Fightin’ Fifth, is typically a somewhat competitive area during Republican-favored election cycles. However, this is not the case for 2018. A recent survey conducted by Sacred Heart University revealed that nearly 49 percent of likely voters in Connecticut plan to support their Democratic congressional candidate, while only 34 percent intend to support Republicans.
Moving on to New Hampshire, incumbent Republican Governor Chris Sununu, who comes from a political dynasty known for its low-profile nature, has maintained a lead over Democrat Molly Kelly in the polls for several months. However, as Election Day approaches, Sununu’s lead appears to be narrowing. Despite still being favored for re-election, Sununu may face obstacles in implementing his agenda. Analyst Louis Jacobson suggests that both Houses of the state legislature could shift from Republican to Democratic control.
Currently, the GOP holds a four-seat majority in the state Senate and a significant 44-seat advantage in the House. Nevertheless, New Hampshire has experienced substantial shifts in party control in recent years, and there is a widespread disapproval of Trump in the region. As a result, the state could potentially transition from unified Republican control to unified Democratic control, depending on the performance of Molly Kelly. This shift could have a profound impact on the direction of school choice in the state since the governor has expressed support for an education savings account initiative that has faced hurdles in the legislature. Kelly is actively campaigning against the proposal, while Sununu has stated that he will make another attempt if he secures a second term.
Both Democrats and Republicans are gearing up to make their voices heard, and it is evident that voters across the nation will significantly turn out at the polls next week, making this midterm election remarkable in terms of voter participation. Michael McDonald, a professor at the University of Florida who diligently maintains a database of U.S. election information, recently stated on NPR that he predicts turnout could reach 50 percent of all eligible voters this year. While this figure may not seem impressive in light of the extensive news coverage surrounding elections, it would actually be the highest rate in over 50 years.