According to Redfield & Wilton Strategies’ latest 2020 poll in six key swing states, we found that the plurality (36-39%) of respondents in the six states do not think that schools should reopen until the pandemic is fully over. In contrast, 15-19% think schools should open as expected by the end of August.

Meanwhile, President Trump insists that schools should reopen, threatening to cut funding if in-person learning doesn’t resume. When asking parents if they would send their children back to school in August, results varied by state. In Florida, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin, the plurality (42-44%) of parents said they would send their children back to school if they reopen. Arizona was very split on the issue with 44% of parents saying they would and 42% saying they would not. In North Carolina, the majority of parents (51%) said they would not send their child back to school compared to just 36% of parents who would.

The difference in comfort levels around sending children back to school does not seem to be linked to tangible case load in states but was instead driven by political party. 53-69% of parents who are likely to vote for Trump in 2020 said they would send their child back to school compared to just 20-37% of parents who are likely to vote for Biden. [1] Among likely Trump voters, those in Wisconsin were the most likely to send their children back to school, and those in North Carolina were the least likely. As for likely Biden voters, those in Pennsylvania were the most likely to send their children to school, whereas those in Michigan were the least likely.

In the event that their child’s school does not reopen, a minority of parents (18-37%) expressed that they were likely to try and transfer them to a school that was open for in-person learning. Parents from Wisconsin were the least likely (18%) to say they might transfer their child, whereas parents from Florida were the most likely (37%). Likelihood to seek a transfer was also split by political party with 24-50% of Trump voters compared to 12-35% Biden voters saying they were likely to transfer their children. Parents from both parties in Florida expressed extremely high preference to transfer with 45% of Trump voters and 35% of Biden voters saying they were likely to transfer their child, suggesting that one potential solution there may be to offer a remote and an in-person option in each district, allowing parents to choose.

In all states but Florida, respondents who were parents of school-age children reported similar sentiments than respondents who were not when asked if parents should be required to send their children to in-person school. 62-73% of parents in Arizona, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin said parents should not be forced to send their children to school, as well as 62-70% of non-parents in those states. 37% of Florida parents however, stated that parents should be forced to send their children to in-person school compared to just 16% of non-parents who held that view. This increased militance shows parents’ desperation for a worthwhile academic experienceand childcare), which comes as all of Florida’s schools are preparing to reopen for a five-day school week, despite surging coronavirus cases in the state.

In terms of who is to blame if schools are unable to open safely in the next few months, the plurality of respondents (35-45%) in all six swing states agreed that it will be no one’s fault, since there is an ongoing pandemic. The second most popular response was to blame the President and Federal Government (23-27%) followed closely by the state governor (15-23%).

Asking respondents to assign blame also showed a partisan split with the plurality (39-49%) of likely Trump voters saying it would be no one’s fault. By contrast, only 3-15% said it would be the Federal Government or President’s fault. Likely Biden supporters also said it could be no one’s fault (26-43%) but blamed the President and federal government in far higher numbers (39-45%) than likely Trump voters.

In certain states, respondents particularly shouldered grievances towards the governor. In Arizona, 24% of likely Trump supporters and 22% of likely Biden voters blamed Republican Governor Doug Ducey, who has set August 17th as a firm date for in-person learning to resume. In North Carolina, 36% of likely Trump voters blamed Democratic governor Roy Cooper, who has urged schools to consider a hybrid model with a mix of remote and in-person learning. In Michigan, the plurality (43%) of likely Trump voters blamed Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer, who has announced she will make the reopening decision at the last possible moment. Republican dissent against Governor Whitmer has been volatile throughout the coronavirus crisis, reaching a peak when armed protestors entered the state house in response to her extension of the stay-at-home mandate.

Disagreement seems to be less pronounced when it comes to reopening universities, probably because unlike K-12 schools, universities do not double as free childcare. The plurality (43-47%) of respondents in each of the swing states disagreed with the statement that ‘universities must open as fully as possible this fall and avoid having to switch to online learning.’ This hesitancy was also seen in our US poll earlier this month where respondents were split on university reopening plans.

When asked about when they thought would be the best time for residential colleges and universities to allow students back to campus, 23-26% of respondents did not know, showing uncertainty about a debate that has garnered less heat than the decision on K-12 schools. Only 18-21% of respondents thought it would be wise to bring students back for the fall semester and 16-21% of respondents thought the best time would be the 2021-2022 school year.

While there is still a lot of uncertainty regarding how parents feel about sending their own children back to in-person learning, the majority of respondents feel uncomfortable forcing schools, universities or individuals towards decisions they may deem as too dangerous. While some parents are happy that schools will be reopening, it is unclear that Trump’s bullishness on this issue will have gained him any support.

To find out more information about this research contact our research team. Redfield & Wilton Strategies is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules.

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[1] Despite the small sizes for these respective sub-samples, the differences between the results are large enough to make our claim statistically significant.

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