A survey of likely voters in Tennessee’s 2018 gubernatorial primaries shows that education reform measures have broad support among Republicans and Democrats and that voters rank improving the quality of education as one of the top issues for the next governor.

Results from the poll were released today by the State Collaborative on Reforming Education, which commissioned a statewide survey of 500 likely voters in the 2018 Republican primary and 500 likely voters in the Democratic primary. The telephone poll was conducted July 12-16 by Fabrizio, Lee & Associates and Benenson Strategy Group.

“One year from now, Tennessee will be holding primary elections for governor and most seats in the General Assembly. It’s clear from this poll that education is a priority for likely voters, and that voters think the improvement efforts of the past 10 years are worth continuing,” SCORE Executive Chairman and CEO Jamie Woodson said. “This includes higher standards, statewide assessment, and teacher evaluations based on multiple measures.”

Voters of both parties ranked education among the top three issues for the next governor, and among parents who vote it was the No. 1 issue for Democrats and the No. 2 issue for Republicans.

Voters were given a number of proposed education reforms and asked whether they would be more or less likely to support a candidate for governor who backed these proposals. For every potential reform, a majority of voters from both parties said they would be more likely to support such a candidate by a margin of 25 points or greater, according to a memo written jointly by pollsters Tony Fabrizio of Fabrizio, Lee & Associates and Shira Angert of Benenson Strategy Group. The list of reforms included:

  • • Expansion of early workforce training, 79 percent of Republican voters and 88 percent of Democratic voters
  • • Higher academic standards, 79 percent of Republican voters and 85 percent of Democratic voters
  • • Improved early learning opportunities, 71 percent of Republican voters and 90 percent of Democratic voters
  • • Increased teacher pay, 71 percent of Republican voters and 88 percent of Democratic voters
  • • Multiple-measure teacher evaluations, 65 percent of Republican voters and 73 percent of Democratic voters
  • • Tougher statewide testing that mirrors what is taught in class, 52 percent of Republican voters and 56 percent of Democratic voters


“We’ve conducted similar surveys for the past 10 years, and Tennessee voters have consistently stood by policies that are focused on improving academic achievement for our students,” SCORE President David Mansouri said. “As we move into an important election cycle, this poll shows us that Tennessee voters continue to support the innovations that have been introduced to help students learn at higher levels.”

The pollsters said there were notable areas of agreement among the voters despite some partisan differences. “Republicans and Democrats not surprisingly have very different views on the current political environment in Tennessee, but they both have positive views of Governor Haslam and his education reforms and policies,” the joint memo said. Among those surveyed, 75 percent of Republicans and 63 percent of Democrats said they approved of the job Haslam has done.

The survey also indicated that Tennesseans are not aware of objective measures, like the Nation’s Report Card, that indicate academic achievement is improving faster in Tennessee than in other states. More voters said they think K-12 education in Tennessee is getting worse than getting better, though a plurality believe it is staying the same. Parents are less positive about the state’s direction on education, the poll showed.

“While Tennessee’s recent progress in education is not known among likely voters, there are a number of ideas for improving education in the state that voters on both sides of the aisle strongly agree with,” Fabrizio and Angert wrote. “Support for education reforms has the potential to generate more support for candidates in both parties.”

Both Angert and Fabrizio have experience conducting surveys for presidential campaigns. Angert was part of Benenson’s team working for then-Senator Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign and conducted polling for the White House in 2009, while Fabrizio has served as the chief pollster on four presidential campaigns, most notably and recently Donald Trump’s 2016 upset victory.

POLL METHODOLOGY: The surveys of likely voters in the August 2018 Tennessee primaries were conducted via landline and cell phone by Benenson Strategy Group and Fabrizio, Lee & Associates. Landline interviews accounted for 60 percent of the sample and cell phone interviews 40 percent.  Geography by county and media market were matched to previous statewide primary elections. Gender and age were matched to the population of likely voters according to a state-provided voter file. Respondents were randomly selected from lists of known registered voters who had previously voted in a primary election. The margin of error at the 95% confidence interval for 500 voters is ±4.38%.

Download joint media memo from Fabrizio, Lee & Associates and Benenson Strategy Group

Download toplines of Democratic voters

Download toplines of Republican voters