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Journal Poll: Voters divided on students going back to school

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

Likely New Mexico voters are split on whether they feel it’s safe to send K-12 students back into the classroom, a Journal Poll found.

“People are divided on this topic and they are divided particularly by party, ideology and region of the state,” said Brian Sanderoff, president of Research & Polling Inc., which conducted the poll.

Poll results showed 43% felt it’s either very or somewhat safe to send students back to school in their community after Labor Day. Fifty percent felt it was either very or somewhat unsafe. The remainder said it depends or they were undecided.

Sanderoff noted that political party affiliation is a big predictor of how people feel about returning to school.

“We even see a politicization on the issue of perceived safety for students returning to school,” Sanderoff said.

According to the state Public Education Department, 20 districts statewide and a handful of charter schools brought elementary-school students back for a mix of in-person and remote learning this month.

Rio Rancho Public Schools will begin the hybrid learning on Monday for younger students. Albuquerque Public Schools is slated to stay in remote learning through the first semester.

Party lines

Respondents were asked, “How safe do you feel it would be to send K-12 students back to school in your community after Labor Day? Do you feel it would be very safe, somewhat safe, somewhat unsafe or very unsafe?”

Sanderoff said there is a tremendous difference in opinions between Democrats and Republicans with Democrats more likely to feel unsafe about sending students back.

The data showed among Democrats polled 22% feel it’s safe and 72% felt unsafe, which is the inverse of how Republicans responded.

Rio Rancho High School students walk from their bus to class in 2014.

Among Republicans polled, 22% felt unsafe and 69% felt it was safe.

“We’ve seen a debate going on for a number of months between Democrats and Republicans about when to reopen the state and the nation,” Sanderoff said.

Political ideology drew similar correlations.

Conservative and liberal responses correlate to an extent with those of Republicans and Democrats, respectively.

But not entirely. For instance, among liberals only 1% felt it was very safe to go back to class with 15% feeling it was somewhat safe.

Kate Pitzen, left, walks with first graders to their classes at Lew Wallace Elementary School on the first day of school in 2017. (Greg Sorber/Albuquerque Journal)

Sanderoff also told the Journal that who people support in the presidential race can also be a predictor of how safe voters are feeling about going back to school.

Among likely voters supporting Joe Biden in the election, 22% feel it’s very or somewhat safe to return and 72% feel it’s somewhat or very unsafe.

But among supporters of President Donald Trump, 74% feel it’s safe compared to 18% who feel it’s unsafe.

Regional differences

In the Albuquerque Metro area, 36% of those polled said they felt varying degrees of safe about school reentry compared to 57% feeling unsafe.

In north central New Mexico, 28% of likely voters felt it was safe and the majority felt unsafe.

Likely voters in the east side of the state, meanwhile, “are much more likely to feel that it’s safe for the students to return,” Sanderoff noted.

Seventy-one percent of the likely voters in eastern New Mexico who responded feel it’s safe to go back.

Eastern New Mexico includes Eddy, Lea and Chaves counties.

Sanderoff noted there has been pushback in this area of the state on the governor’s restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic and overall it’s more conservative.

Sanderoff said the poll is a snapshot, and a question of this nature has a shorter shelf life than others given factors such as the fluctuation in coronavirus cases.

Polling method

The Journal Poll is based on a scientific, statewide sample of 457 likely general election voters who also voted in either the 2016 and 2018 general elections, or both.

The poll was conducted from Aug. 26 through Sept. 2. The voter sample has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.6 percentage points.

All interviews were conducted live by professional interviewers, with multiple callbacks to households that did not initially answer the phone.

Both cellphone numbers (74%) and landlines (26%) of likely general election voters were used.

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