A Very Focused Focus Group Weighs In on the Debate

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Photo by: Jarrett Murphy

The crowd that gathered at a theater on City College's campus to watch last night's Democratic mayoral debate—and listen, before and after, to a panel of experts discussing how the next mayor might improve the school system—was hardly a scientific sample of New York's likely voters. It consisted overwhelmingly of CUNY students and educators.

But with respected polls over the past week pegging Bill de Blasio's support at anywhere from 29 percent to 43 percent, who knows how scientific the “scientific” samples are.

So, we took a straw poll of people's reaction to the debate. Some 160 people attended the event, but only 26 filled out the poll—21 of whom planned to vote next Tuesday. Most of those people said the debate hadn't helped them make up their minds: Nine had already decided who they were voting for before the debate, and four were still undecided after the hour-long exchange among the five leading Democrats. Asked if the debate had included enough content on education, no one answered “yes.”

Asked whose views on education—alone—had impressed them most, 13 said de Blasio and 4 said Bill Thompson. Even the Quinnipiac Poll doesn't have the public advocate taking 76 percent of the vote, so the rest of the results might say more about a particular group of de Blasio voters than it does about the electorate.:

Most in the crowd ranked education as their top issue; almost everyone placed it in the top three. Asked if schools had gotten better, stayed the same, or gotten worse under Mayor Bloomberg, the answers were:

Much better 1 person
Slightly better 4 people
Same 2 people
Slightly worse 4 people
Much worse 6 people
No answer 4 people

Most did not name an idea they heard during the debate that impressed them, although among those who did, universal pre-K (de Blasio's signature issue) was the top pick.

But asked to choose from a list of potential policy moves (opening charter schools, closing charter schools, improving discipline and so on) the crowd overwhelmingly chose not universal pre-K but “improving college readiness” as their top goal for the next mayor.

(Thanks to Professor Terri Watson for organizing yesterday's event, to the Colin L. Powell Center for sponsoring it, and to the excellent panelists: Zakiyah Ansari, the advocacy director for the New York State Alliance for Quality Education: Professor David Bloomfield of the CUNY Graduate Center and Brooklyn College; Professor R L’Heureux Lewis-McCoy from City College; and Professor Alan R. Sadovnik, the Board of Governors Distinguished Service Professor at Rutgers University-Newark.)

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