Ten Thousand Democracies: Politics and Public Opinion in America's School Districts

By Michael B. Berkman; Eric Plutzer | Go to book overview

chapter three
Public Opinion and
Americans' Commitment
to Educational Spending

According to Everett Ladd, “Americans are deeply committed to the enterprise of education. We say so every time we are asked, no matter how we are asked—and we put our money where our mouths are” (Ladd 1995, 22). Ladd points to government expenditures that have increased steadily since the 1960s and to public opinion polls showing that most Americans think that we ought to be spending more, rather than less, on public education.

We begin this chapter by reviewing forty years of public opinion polls in order to highlight the defining aspects of Americans' views about educational spending. In particular, we are interested in identifying and describing lines of political cleavage that form the foundation of local politics. We then want to see how these political cleavages combine with the demographic composition of each school district to produce varying commitments to public education across the roughly 10,000 unified school districts in the United States.

Political cleavages emerge because the history, economy, and culture of a nation give rise to groups that differ in their quality of life, their opportunities, or their values. In the United States, professionals differ from hourly workers, whites differ from blacks, and we see important political differences between inner-city and suburban dwellers, young and old, rich and poor—to note the most important social cleavages.

These social differences then lead to different political preferences. The differences may arise out of economic self-interest (e.g., homeowners may be less enthusiastic than renters about increases in local

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