By almost a 3-to-1 margin (56 to 20 percent), American voters are deeply concerned that the lives of American children have become worse over the last decade. And, by a 58 to 36 percent margin, voters are not confident that life for our children's generation will be better off. They recognize that American children are no longer the healthiest, the most educated, and best-prepared kids in the world. They feel that what once was the American Dream -- the knowledge that our kids would have opportunities we could never even imagine -- is today the "American Challenge" to make that the reality once again. And that challenge is an American one -- not a partisan one.
In a nationwide Public Opinion Strategies poll on behalf of First Focus Campaign for Children, 82 percent of American adults say that candidates' positions on federal issues regarding children will affect their vote. Furthermore, 63 percent say the presidential candidates are not providing enough attention to children's issues in the campaign.
Unfortunately, this has been an issue throughout much of the campaign season. According to an analysis by the Iowa Children and Family Center for Voices for America's Children of the Republican presidential primary debates, only 2 percent of all the questions addressed issues with respect to issues of children and child well-being. Although political leaders are apt to talk about their children and grandchildren as reasons for their running for political office, they are failing to address the policy needs of all our nation's children. As the report notes:
These statements all indicate that candidates recognize the critical importance of framing their campaigns in the context of children and, by extension, their personal responsibility for ensuring their own children grow up healthy, safe, secure, and with an educational foundation that gives them the opportunity for success. Unfortunately, the remaining parts of the debate shed very little light on how they propose to do that for all children in the United States or what they see as the federal role in ensuring an equal opportunity for all children.
And yet, in a recent Center for the Next Generation and Parents Magazine poll, an almost unanimous 97 percent of parents believe the next president needs to make children and family issues a priority in his administration. And, in the First Focus Campaign for Children poll, 85 percent of parents and even 80 percent of non-parents say a candidate's position on issues affecting children will impact their vote.
Obama Leading Romney 42 to 32 Percent on Children's Issues with One-Quarter Still Undecided
From what they have heard thus far, 42 percent of voters believe that Barack Obama would better handle the problems children are facing in America, compared to 32 percent for Mitt Romney. Romney's biggest problem on the issue is with younger voters between the ages of 18 and 34 who believe Obama is better able to handle the problems children are facing by 51 to 18 percent.
Parents are almost evenly split, as Obama holds a slight 39 to 37 percent lead among them, but gender plays an important role. Moms favor Obama on children's issues by 42 to 33 percent, while dads favor Romney by 37 to 32 percent. A solid one-quarter of voters remain undecided between the two candidates, including 28 percent of parents.
Meanwhile, although Obama is currently favored on children's issues among Hispanic voters by 30 points (43 to 13 percent), another 43 percent of Hispanics remain undecided.
Voters Express Strong Support for Making Children a Bigger Priority in the Federal Budget
Fortunately, the debate around children's issues did pick up somewhat at the Republican and Democratic National Conventions, as we have heard some increased references and debate on issues of importance to children, including Medicaid, pre-existing conditions in health reform, class size and school choice issues, the Child Tax Credit (CTC) and Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), the DREAM Act, and the federal budget deficit.
And, although there are those people, like author Windsor Mann, who think we should ignore children and their needs, that is, fortunately, a position which the vast majority of Americans oppose.
Instead, voters believe our nation must rise to confront the dual threat to children -- the looming federal budget deficit (62 percent say they are very concerned about it) and the need for investments to enhance outcomes and expand opportunities for our nation's children. Although some would argue those are mutually exclusive, Americans disagree. In fact, when presented with a number of options for reducing the national deficit, voters make children a clear priority in comparison to other options in the budget and firmly reject cutting funding for children. This is the American Challenge at this point in our history.
Thus, the majority of America voters disapprove of Congress making budget cuts to an array of children's programs, including: education (75 percent), the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP-74 percent), Medicaid (73 percent), child abuse and neglect (66 percent), the CTC and EITC (63 percent), student loans and financial aid for college students (59 percent), Head Start (59 percent), and child care (54 percent).
To voters, it is a matter of making children a much greater priority in federal policymaking and budgeting. On average, voters believe that the federal government should allocate 28 percent of the budget on children -- a far greater share of spending than the 8 percent that children currently receive. When told that children receive just 8 cents of every dollar spent by the federal government, voters say, by 60 to 13 percent, hearing that makes them more likely to support increasing the amount of money the federal government spends on children.
To the American public, the reason our kids have lost ground isn't a great mystery. They recognize we aren't investing in them. They recognize that when we help children grow and succeed, we are paving the way for our country's next generation of workers and leaders to compete in a global economy. As a result, voters recognize our nation must invest in a world-class education and must invest in those children who are most vulnerable and needy, so that every child can meet the new American Challenge and live the American Dream.
Support for Children Runs Across Gender, Racial, Ethnic, Generational, and Partisan Lines
Whether male or female, Democrat, Independent, or Republican, white, Hispanic or black, young adult, middle aged, or senior citizen, or liberal, moderate, conservative, or Tea Party supporter, all groups support protecting children in our nation's federal budget deficit debate, even if their top issue may vary somewhat.
Thus, while 91 percent of voters express concern about the federal budget deficit, they reject having federal budget cuts fall on our nation's children. In fact, they see the dual goals of tackling the budget deficit while protecting children in that process as being critical for the next generation.
For example, the highest percentage of male voters in this country rejected cutting either education or Medicare (75 percent) while the vast majority of women rejected cutting Medicaid (81 percent).
Among women ages 18 to 34, they overwhelmingly reject cutting funding for CHIP (89 percent), Medicaid (86 percent), student loans and financial aid (78 percent), education (77 percent), child abuse and neglect (75 percent), the CTC and EITC (71 percent), and Head Start (69 percent) -- all of which fared better among this group of voters than issues that many politicians pay far more attention to, such as Medicare (68 percent), Social Security (64 percent), and defense (55 percent), which also polled well.
Although young women tend to be more liberal, the fact is that opposition to cutting children's programs is also strong even among older, more conservative Tea Party supporters. For example, a majority of voters that are favorable to the Tea Party are also opposed to cutting funding for child abuse and neglect (64 percent), Medicaid (62 percent), education (58 percent), tax credits for working families (56 percent) and CHIP (50 percent). Although their list of top priorities may be different, the results for children are similar. Both liberals and conservatives believe that children should be protected from the federal budget chopping block.
As an example of another group of voters who strongly support protecting the investments we are making in children, Hispanic voters overwhelmingly oppose cutting education (93 percent), CHIP (79 percent), student loans and financial aid (79 percent), Medicaid (70 percent), child abuse and neglect (70 percent), the CTC and EITC (66 percent), and Head Start (58 percent).
For all Americans, the support for children remains strong even when asked to make really tough budget decisions. For example, voters oppose cutting Medicare, Social Security, or defense and national security by strong margins (78 percent, 77 percent, and 60 percent, respectively). Thus, the poll purposely put children's issues to the test by asking, for example, if the needs of children, the elderly, or the military should be a greater focus in the federal budget. Even when faced with such difficult trade-offs, such as these, kids fared well among voters.
For example, when asking if children or the elderly should be a greater priority, by a 14 percent margin, voters said than believe policymakers should focus more on the needs of children than the elderly (34 to 20 percent). This is true even among the elderly, who said that children should be a greater focus by 28 to 17 percent. And among Hispanic voters, children are the priority by 59 to 13 percent.
And, by a 14-point margin, voters believe that children should be a greater focus than the military in federal budget decisions (42-28 percent). This holds across all age groups, including 50 to 25 percent among voters 18 to 34 and by 34 to 26 percent among voters over the age of 65. Although 75 percent of Hispanic voters disapprove of cutting defense spending to reduce the federal budget deficit, Hispanics support children even more. In fact, when asking to make a choice between the needs of children or the military in the federal budget, Hispanics favor children by a margin of 53 points (66 to 13 percent).
Voters recognize there are trade-offs and will make children the priority time and time again. For example, while 75 percent of American adults reject cutting education funding, 77 percent support cutting spending on subsidies for oil companies and other big corporations in order to focus more on children's issues. While 74 percent of Americans oppose cutting CHIP, that same percentage of voters would find it accepted to raise taxes on people who make more than $500,000 a year in order to focus more on children's issues. While 66 percent of American reject cutting funding to prevent child abuse and neglect, 77 percent would find it acceptable to close corporate tax loopholes in order to focus more on children's issues. And, while 63 percent of voters oppose cutting tax credits for working families with children, like the Child Tax Credit and the Earned Income Tax Credit, that same percentage would be inclined to raise taxes on corporate stock sales in order to focus more on children's issues.
To Americans, the federal budget is all about making choices and they are sending a clear message that they believe children are worse off than a decade ago, that the future of the next generation is at risk, and that we must rise to face this new American Challenge by making children a greater priority at this critical moment in time -- and in this election.
Are the politicians and their political consultants listening?