Politics & Government

Poll says public supports NC teachers march, but critics question validity

A planned mass teacher protest in Raleigh on May 1 has strong bipartisan public support, according to a new survey commissioned by a left-leaning organization. But critics are questioning the poll’s findings.

The new poll from Public Policy Polling found that 71 percent of the 514 people surveyed said they support N.C. teachers’ plan to leave school for the May 1 protest to demand that state lawmakers increase state school funding, The poll results, released Thursday, also showed strong support for the march’s goals, which include raising pay for school employees and expanding Medicaid funding.

The poll results come as a growing number of school districts cancel classes on May 1 because so many school employees have requested the day off.

“Republicans and Democrats stood up for our kids last year,” said Mark Jewell, president of the N.C. Association of Educators, which is organizing the protest. “They’re rising up again as we get more school districts say we’re going to close down and let my community and educators go to Raleigh to lobby on behalf of our students.”

But critics are questioning both how the poll was conducted and who is behind the findings. Jewell said the poll was commissioned by the liberal group Progress NC and that NCAE had no knowledge of it before the results were released.

A big complaint was that survey respondents were told that North Carolina is currently ranked 37th nationally in teacher salaries. The National Education Association raised North Carolina’s rank from 37th last school year to 29th this school year.

The question posed by pollsters to respondents was: In recent years, teacher pay has been a major issue in our state government. Currently, state teacher salaries rank 37th in the nation. Generally speaking, would you say North Carolina teacher salaries are too low, too high, or about right?

“It’s no surprise that a Democratic organization is using results from a Democratic polling firm that favor Democrats,” said Pat Ryan, a spokesman for Senate leader Phil Berger. “The fact that the liberal PPP poll lied to respondents about North Carolina’s teacher pay ranking and failed to disclose that ‘a personal day’ means hundreds of thousands of students can’t go to school should tell you all you need to know about this joke of a poll.”

Tom Jensen, director of Public Policy Polling, did not respond to The News & Observer’s phone call and email requesting a comment on Thursday.

Public Policy Polling surveyed 514 people by telephone from April 10-12. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.3 percentage points.

Findings of the poll include:

Sixty-nine percent believe teacher salaries in North Carolina are too low.

Seventy-seven percent support providing enough school librarians, psychologists, social workers, counselors, nurses, and other health professionals to meet national standards.

Seventy-one percent support raising the minimum wage for school employees to $15 an hour.

Sixty-three percent said they support expanding Medicaid.

Support was high among both Republicans and Democrats in the poll

“Republicans and Democrats both care about the public schools and their community,” Jewell said. “Why is it a left-wing agenda for kids to have a textbook?”

But Donald Bryson, president of the conservative Civitas Institute, said Democrats were oversampled. Democrats account for 37 percent of registered voters in North Carolina but made up 44 percent of the survey respondents.

Bryson said that the responses might have been different if the ranking of 29th in teacher pay was used or if people were asked if they’d support holding the rally on a non-school day instead of one that causes classes to be canceled.

Bryson also said that not including information about cost of items such as expanding Medicaid were “rainbow and butterfly questions.”

“This is just a liberal poll if there ever was,” Bryson said. “These are fair questions to ask, but it doesn’t come with any context.”

FiveThirtyEight, a news research organization that assesses the methodology, bias and accuracy of pollsters around the country, gave Public Policy Polling a “B” rating on its latest report card. The pollster’s political bias skewed only slightly Democrat, according to FiveThirtyEight.

Related stories from Raleigh News & Observer