- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 4, 2005

Is the National Education Association worried that it is out of touch? Not as much as it should be. At its annual meeting this weekend, the union presented some new internal survey results that show the NEA wants to sell itself better to the 2.7 million teachers and education professionals who make up its membership.

It’s no surprise to education insiders, but half of the NEA’s membership self-identify as political conservatives. According to its survey results, 50 percent of members call themselves conservatives, while only 40 percent call themselves liberals. That’s a problem for a lobbying powerhouse like the NEA which espouses down-the-line liberal positions in exchange for bigger budgets and political favors. It needs to figure out how to appeal to a base which is far more diverse than its leadership.

The survey, conducted in May by Michigan-based Star Research, is normally available only to NEA brass and is conducted for top leaders interested in rank-and-file opinion. But it was leaked to a watchgroup group called the Education Intelligence Agency, which published a summary on Monday. The NEA did not return our phone call requesting comment, and the survey makes clear why: The union doesn’t want to become more conservative — but it seemingly wants to tailor its message in ways the heartland can appreciate.

On religion, the NEA asked members whether they agree with the statement “I tend to vote for elected officials who share my religious beliefs”; it asked whether members’ religious beliefs affect most of their major decisions; and it asked whether unions should reflect members’ religious beliefs. On Social Security, members were asked “about the attempts to privatize portions of Social Security.” (About a third vote on religious beliefs; slightly less than half act on them; very few want the union to do the same. On Social Security, half were opposed to reform and 12 percent support it.)

“It caught them by surprise that President Bush won reelection,” EIA director Mike Antonucci explained to The Washington Times. “Their view was, ‘We didn’t get the activism, the turnout we wanted [in 2004], what can we do to change that?’ ” None of this is soul-searching; rather, it’s about strategy and fine-tuning the message. That makes sense: If the NEA were truly interested in soul-searching, it didn’t need any new survey questions; its old questions illustrate how out of touch it is.

The top reason new members give for joining the NEA is that they “have no choice.” One-third of NEA members say they are not involved with the organization at all. About half the NEA’s new members indicate the same. Eighty-nine percent of NEA local affiliate presidents ran unopposed in their last election.

These facts suggest what conservatives have been saying all along: The NEA is a complacent and out-of-touch union.

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