(MintPress) – There are a handful of demographics the Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney struggled to gain the support of on Election Day: Women and minority voters top the list. But an interesting trend manifested itself that night, as the top 10 educated states in the country voted for President Barack Obama, while nine of the 10 least educated states voted for Romney. The voting trend may coincide with the education policies Democrats and Republicans ran on, as Republicans took a more hardline approach to public education funding and championed efforts to reduce the influence of teachers unions.
Over the past two years, public education and teachers unions became a punching bag for Republican legislators. In the summer of 2011, Republicans entered preliminary 2012 budget talks with a plan to cut $153.4 billion from labor, health and, most of all, education. Prior to that, Republican Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker proposed legislation to repeal most of the collective bargaining rights for school employees and teachers unions. Walker was pushing to only allow public unions the capability to bargain for cost-of-living salary increases, which prompted a recall election of which Walker narrowly won.
And most recently, Romney used part of his presidential campaign to say that teachers unions should be limited in their political contributions, despite Romney accepting millions of dollars on behalf of private corporations and business moguls. Romney said it was an injustice to have politicians ruling on policies of which they were so closely linked to.
“We simply can’t have a setup where the teachers unions can contribute tens of millions of dollars to the campaigns of politicians and then those politicians, when elected, stand across from them at the bargaining table, supposedly to represent the interests of the kids,” he said. “I think it’s a mistake. I think we’ve got to get the money out of the teachers unions going into campaigns. It’s the wrong way for us to go. We’ve got to separate that.”
Union power goes blue
The hidden motivation for Romney, however, seems relatively clear. According to Open Secrets, teachers unions contribute 95 percent of their allocated funds to Democrats, which also falls in line with their voting habits. The two largest teachers’ unions in the country – the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the National Education Association (NEA) – donated 99 percent and 91 percent of their funds respectively to Democrats during the 2008 presidential election.
Open Secrets says teachers favor Democratic education policies far more than those of Republicans. Teachers were responsive to Obama’s Race to the Top plan, which supplanted the previous No Child Left Behind program signed into law early in George W. Bush’s first presidential term. Romney, however, wanted to keep the No Child Left Behind system in place, but with slight changes. In the simplest terms, teachers and unions heavily vote Democratic because the party’s policies are in line with the ideals of teachers and unions.
“Teachers unions’ primary goals include decreasing class sizes, defeating proposals to offer public school students vouchers for private schools and improving student/teacher interaction,” Open Secrets wrote. “The unions also focus on issues of pay, tenure and the availability of classroom resources. Another priority for these groups during the 111th Congress is passage of health care reform and passage of the Employee Free Choice Act, a measure supporters say will make it easier for workers to unionize.”
But after the Chicago teacher union strike that extended into the late summer, a new reality set in for teachers unions: Budgets are just as important as policies when aligning with a political party. Chicago teachers took to the streets in protest over their contract, and as Timothy Stanley, a historian at Oxford University wrote, a $667 million deficit created a rare opponent for the union.
“Surprisingly, the latest elected official to do battle with a public-sector union isn’t the Republican governor of Wisconsin,” Stanley wrote for CNN. “It’s Rahm Emanuel, the Democrat mayor of Chicago and President Obama’s former chief of staff. The struggle is significant because it challenges the orthodox narrative. It isn’t just tea party Republicans who are tangling with unions. Democrats are getting pulled into war with their old allies, too.”
The battle demonstrated that unions are up against more than just one political party, but rather an economic system that does not play to their advantage. Still, Democrats have made education a priority and teachers have aligned themselves with that. So it makes sense that states with the highest number of educated individuals would be swayed to vote Democrat. Massachusetts, the state of which Romney once served as governor, has the highest rate of individuals over the age of 25 with a college degree. But the state solidly went to Obama and against the presidential ambitions of its former public servant.
GOP denounces education efforts
Despite their feelings toward workers unions in general, it may be Republicans overall attitude toward education as a whole that lost them the vote among the nation’s most educated states. After all, it was former Republican presidential nominee Rick Santorum who lashed out at Obama and Romney for being a “snob” and an “elite” for their backgrounds and for Obama’s wish that every American could get a college education. Santorum also said colleges and universities in the U.S. are used as liberal indoctrination facilities.
“President Obama said he wants everybody in America to go to college. What a snob!” Santorum exclaimed. “There are good, decent men and women who go out and work hard every day and put their skills to test that aren’t taught by some liberal college professor trying to indoctrinate them. Oh I understand why he wants you to go to college. He wants to remake you in his image.”
And it was the Texas GOP that denounced teaching critical thinking in schools because it could undermine the values taught at home.
“Knowledge-Based Education – We oppose the teaching of Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) (values clarification), critical thinking skills and similar programs that are simply a relabeling of Outcome-Based Education (OBE) (mastery learning) which focus on behavior modification and have the purpose of challenging the student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority,” the Texas GOP proposed in its education platform.
When Republicans in the U.S. developed their attitudes on education is hard to pinpoint, wrote Peter Smirniotopoulos, a national expert in urban redevelopment. Smirniotopoulos said Republicans attack education in waves, with different policies. For decades, he wrote, programs such as Head Start were singled out for budget reductions. Now, that sentiment has been expanded to teachers unions and higher education, as Republicans were keen on allowing the interest rates on Stafford student loans to double, from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent.
It’s no surprise, he wrote, that those with higher education degrees vote favorably for Democrats. And while Republicans claim the education system needs an overhaul, Smirniotopoulos says they only want to change the way it is funded and what is taught.
“At a time when the country should come together to reform our educational systems (from the ground up, in my opinion), in order to make the U.S. much more competitive in a global marketplace, the segment of the population that has bought into this conservative meme will fight any efforts at actually improving education in America, particularly if such improvements require increased funding with taxpayer dollars,” Smirniotopoulos wrote.