March 24, 2023 10:00am

Public Education Seen As Most Important Issue

Public safety, transportation close behind

Photo of Bruce Dobie
Nashville, TN Correspondent

As the early-stage mayoral race reaches for second gear and candidates begin staking policy claims, Power Poll members opined this week on what issues matter most to them.

Out of 11 broad issues, public education was the top-ranked concern followed by public safety, transportation, basic city services, and affordable housing initiatives.

In the middle of the pack came neighborhood issues, Metro/State relations, and homeless policies/initiatives. At the bottom were economic development, Lower Broadway/downtown, and the “loss of the city’s soul.”

Dovetailing off the issues discussion, which sparked a considerable number of posts in the Comments section, (some which took us to task on what was left out), members were asked to predict which mayoral candidate will place first in the mayor’s race.

Matt Wiltshire remained the clear frontrunner. The economic development and affordable housing executive, who has demonstrated no small amount of fundraising prowess, has made significant inroads into the class of influencers who are likely to belong to Power Poll.

The second-place finisher behind Wiltshire in the perceived winner game was state Sen. Jeff Yarbro. The remaining candidates received very few votes.

As the mayoral race takes shape and concerns are expressed about city issues, there is a decidedly unconcerned attitude regarding the health of Power Poll members’ personal banks.

The vast majority of Power Poll members say they aren’t anxiously sweating about their own bank even as aftershocks have rumbled through the industry after some high-profile collapses. More than three-quarters say they are “not very concerned” or “not concerned at all.”

Here are the specific questions and answers in this week’s Power Poll.

CONTEXT I: The Issues

For quite a long time, in just about any Tennessee election, candidates would focus on three bellwether issues: public education, public safety, and economic development. It got to be a rather boring recitation for us political consumers, but that was the basic litany.

Obviously, there was a reason for this. Power Poll members in this survey are still focused on the first two. And for good reason.

Public education has long been heralded as the issue behind which all others follow. It is most central to the success of democracy and our grand experiment that places power in the people. Without a smart electorate, many have long opined, we are doomed. Pure and simple. Thus, Power Poll members ranked it issue number one.

On the issue of public safety, most agree that a chief responsibility of government is to preserve order so that we all might live out our lives safely and go about living life as we choose. That makes sense. And so, Power Poll members ranked it second.

Interesting that the other issue long considered a member of the issue triumvirate—economic development—fell far down in the issues ranked by Power Poll members. What has happened? One might only guess that our Power Poll voters see no need for anyone to talk about economic development inasmuch as hundreds of people are moving to Nashville anyway and the economy is red hot and cranes are still everywhere you look. A glaring need to promote it as a top issue may be a waste of everyone’s time, despite its general relevance.

In our survey, as one moves past education and public safety and proceeds down the list, you hit the issues of transportation, basic city services, and affordable housing. These were all in proximity with each other behind public education and public safety. And in these three issues one senses dissatisfaction with Metro Government’s ability to keep pace with our growth.

Workers get priced out of decent housing; members say we need to address housing affordability. Trash pickup, stormwater drainage and potholes all loom large; members thus rank basic city services as needing attention. And of course, there’s transportation. The traffic that has come with our region’s growth has members wanting a focus on mass transit, roads, bike paths/greenways. In all three issues, many appear to be saying we need to get government keeping pace with the city it serves.

Elsewhere in the issue rankings, it is interesting that despite so many people feeling that the character of our city is threatened by crazed bachelorettes and economic policies that favor tourists over residents, Power Poll members ranked Lower Broadway/Downtown and loss of the city’s soul at the very bottom of the issues heap. When push comes to shove, members voted for concrete, widespread issues rather than ethereal and downtown-centric issues. It’s not that the latter issues aren’t important; it’s just they are not seen as that important, comparatively.

In a lively Comments section, members took turns discussing various issues they felt should have been on the list but were not, including: sustainability issues (global warming, solar energy, tree loss, etc.); affordable childcare; access to healthcare; city finances; and making Nashville a “smart” city.

CONTEXT II: The Candidates

In February, we asked members to predict who they thought would win the August mayor’s race. This month we asked the identical question. (We plan to keep doing so through the August election.)

In this month’s results, Wiltshire expanded upon his lead; 57% of Power Poll members predicted he would place first, compared to 49% who thought so last month. His margin over the next highest candidate—Yarbro, in both cases—increased from 25% to 39%.

Success begets success. There is clear momentum in Wiltshire’s camp. However, it is still very early. Way early. Wiltshire faces a challenge from others (Yarbro, for instance) who have very good (if not better) name recognition. He faces competition from people with money (Gingrich, for instance). He faces smart candidates, a conservative candidate, people of color. It’s highly fluid. But at this stage, Power Poll members think Wiltshire’s irrepressible energy and high-wattage personality position him well come August.


Finally, the last two weeks have seen the collapse of two fairly large banks elsewhere in the country, giving rise to discussion that perhaps the financial system is not as healthy as we think it is.

Bah, humbug, say Power Poll members.

Few are sweating it. Over 75 percent say they aren’t concerned about their bank.

A brief tangent… It’s interesting to look at local bank stock prices to see if the recent turnoil is having an effect here locally. And in some cases, it is.

Here’s a sampling of some local bank stocks’ highs and lows for the last month… Pinnacle was trading this week at $53 a share, down from a month earlier at $74. FirstBank was trading at $30 a share, down from $37. Truxton was trading at $68.50, down $1.50.

Ah well. Consumers here may not be feeling any pain. But a few shareholders may be – for now, at least. Those bank-failure ripples had to land somewhere. The markets never lie.

Power Poll Members: Do you have a friend or colleague who should be on Power Poll? Please invite them to join!

About Power Poll: Power Poll asks questions of the most powerful, influential people in U.S. cities. It is not a scientific survey. But because the people responding to the surveys comprise the leadership structure of their cities, the results afford a fascinating glimpse into the thoughts, opinions, and beliefs of those in a position to make change. Power Poll is distinctly nonpartisan.

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