Educational technology stakeholders favor Barack Obama over John McCain in the 2008 presidential race, 58 percent to 37 percent, according to an informal eSchool News survey. Though unscientific, our poll suggests a great deal about how the educators, administrators, and ed-tech vendors who read eSchool News view the topics that will shape this race … and the issues that matter most for schools.

Leadership trumps experience as a key qualification for president, according to our survey–and the economy is the No. 1 issue on educators’ minds. That’s not surprising, given how declining property values and shrinking state coffers have ravaged school budgets from coast to coast.

In an election where so much is at stake, opinions run strong–as evidenced by the strong response to our survey. In just five days, more than 1,000 readers took a few minutes from their busy schedules to answer a series of questions for us online.

Our readers revealed they have deep concerns about the many challenges facing the United States–from the nation’s declining standing on the global stage, to a struggling educational system and a sagging economy, to government corruption and our dependence on foreign oil.

"I am adamant that the next president be a true leader–intelligent, visionary, with an understanding of the importance of building good relationships and maintaining a respected standing with leaders around the world," wrote one frustrated reader.

"There is more riding on this election than any other time in history. We need to strengthen how we are perceived around the world. We need to strengthen education, and we need to strengthen the economy," wrote another.

Few readers (only 5 percent) said they were undecided, and nearly 80 percent said they strongly favored one candidate over the other.

Women favored Obama in our survey by a 2-to-1 margin, 64 percent to 32 percent–calling into question the idea that McCain’s choice of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate would draw women voters to the Republican ticket (at least as far as our readers are concerned). Among men, the responses were a virtual dead heat: 48 percent for Obama, 47 percent for McCain.

Our survey also revealed a deep geographical divide: While respondents from the South favored McCain, 51 percent to 45 percent, respondents from all other geographic areas (Northeast, Midwest, West) favored Obama by nearly a 2-to-1 margin.

Teachers favored Obama in our survey, 55 percent to 40 percent. That’s not surprising, given that teachers’ unions typically endorse the Democratic ticket in a presidential race. But what might surprise some people is that Obama received even greater support from the business community: 58 percent of ed-tech vendors favored Obama, while 40 percent of vendors said they supported McCain.

Maybe that’s because Obama has talked about the need for schools to teach 21st-century skills and upgrade their technology to keep America globally competitive (see "Obama outlines broad plan for U.S. education")–while the McCain campaign has been largely silent on this issue so far.

Fifty-three percent of poll respondents said they consider the candidates’ stance on issues and their personal character traits as equally important factors in choosing whom to vote for, while 27 percent said they believe the issues are more important and 20 percent said they think character is the chief factor. Those figures varied widely according to whom the respondents supported, however.

Among Obama supporters, 38 percent said the issues mattered more, and only 7 percent said character was more important. Among McCain supporters, 42 percent said character mattered most, and just 7 percent cited issues as their primary concern.

Of course, education was an issue that mattered a great deal to survey respondents–but it ranked only fourth in terms of importance, behind the economy, the Iraq war (and the war on terror), and energy.

"The middle class cannot afford four more years of Republican economic policies and war rather than diplomacy," wrote one Obama supporter, while another chimed in: "I think the nation is facing very serious problems, and I don’t think the Republican ticket even understands the nature of the problems."

On the other side, a McCain supporter had this to say: "I believe an Obama-Biden ticket is committed to change that would destroy our economy, embolden our enemies, attack our Second Amendment rights, appoint activist judges that legislate from the bench, weaken our commitment against terrorism, and lead our country toward socialism. I believe a McCain-Palin ticket is committed to change that would greatly help our economy, keep our enemies in check, protect our Second Amendment rights, appoint judges that look at the original intent of our Constitution and do not legislate from the bench, strengthen our commitment against terrorism, greatly improve education, and [create] more and better jobs for all."

When it comes to character, our readers said they valued leadership most of all, followed by integrity, honesty, judgment, intelligence, and vision.

Experience–which was an early campaign theme of McCain’s that has been echoed by many Obama supporters since McCain chose Palin as his running mate–appears to be overblown, at least in the minds of our readers: It ranked 12th out of 15 choices. (Readers who indicated that experience was very important to them, however, favored McCain over Obama, 76 percent to 20 percent.)

Our survey suggested that McCain’s choice of Palin for vice president was a sharply polarizing decision, as readers expressed passionate and deeply divided opinions about her qualifications.

"Sarah Palin will be the star of this presidential election, especially for all those women who are moms and work full time, are soccer moms, have a special-needs child, a son in the service, [or] a teen pregnancy," wrote one reader. "She leads and she juggles all the other issues in her life, with the help and support from her husband, her convictions, and her faith. She’s a regular woman like the rest of us, who is wildly successful in every aspect of her life and has at least one aspect of her life that women can identify [with]."

Another wrote: "The fact that Palin doesn’t seem to see anything wrong in banning books in public library collections should be a cause for concern to all librarians and those who believe in freedom of speech."

Citing Palin’s support for teaching creationism in science classes, which she expressed while running for governor of Alaska, a third reader said: "I don’t see how anyone who thinks it is important to teach higher-order thinking skills could support a person like Palin in the White House."

Finally, our survey revealed that even those involved in education have strongly held opinions that would appear to conflict with objective evidence to the contrary.

Repeating a perception that seems to stick despite having been debunked by FactCheck.org and others, one reader wrote: "Those who refuse to pledge allegiance to the flag of this country are not able to lead this country." And this comment shouldn’t even need a rebuttal: "Don’t want any part of a Muslim running the country."

Links:

Obama ’08

John McCain 2008

Note to readers:

Don’t forget to visit the Turning Student Data Into Intelligence resource center. No matter how many students a school or district has, one thing remains the same–the vital importance of tracking student attendance, grades, standardized test scores, school or district transfers, and more. Administrators, teachers, students, and parents all depend on a reliable Student Information System (SIS) to give accurate reports and updates. Go to: Turning Student Data Into Intelligence