Political experts say a third poll released Friday, which is nearly identical to two others taken in the past five months, is a crystal ball with a single message: Vouchers aren't going to make it.

Fifty-seven percent of Utah voters say they are against a universal private school voucher program, according to a Dan Jones & Associates poll conducted for the Deseret Morning News and KSL-TV. Thirty-five percent said they would vote for vouchers, while 8 percent were undecided.

"Voucher people have to have an almost mystical belief in their ability to get this vote to overcome the consistency of this 20-point deficit," said Kirk Jowers, director of the Hinckley Institute of Politics at the University of Utah.

"It's quite remarkable to have so many polls remain almost identical for almost five months — typically you see little bumps and spikes (in different polls) depending on the news, but this seems to show that people are pretty settled on this," he said.

Also, last month another statewide poll that was released by Brigham Young University produced the same results.

Last week's poll surveyed 603 Utahns — 200 more than the two other polls conducted for the Deseret Morning News and KSL in the past few months. It has a margin of error of 4 percent.

"For vouchers to pass, it has to get more Republican votes," said pollster Dan Jones, who has polled in Utah for more than 30 years.

His new survey shows that 50 percent of Republicans plan to vote against vouchers, while only 41 percent plan to vote in favor.

"A very large majority of 81 percent of the Democrats are against vouchers," Jones added. "But what is really keeping the voucher initiative from passing is that 58 percent of political independents are against them."

Getting the LDS vote is necessary to win in Utah, and Jones' latest survey shows that 57 percent of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints oppose vouchers.

Jones added that he expects the pro-voucher effort to be very heavy over the weekend and that the final vote will be closer than the latest poll shows.

Legislators last winter approved a $500 to $3,000 voucher for private school tuition, based on income, plus $9.2 million to make sure public schools aren't left hurting, at least for the first five years. But voucher critics successfully petitioned to put the law up to a public vote.

Though voucher supporters recognize the odds are against them, some are counting on an upset.

"I am not going to underestimate parents for one second," said Leah Barker, spokeswoman for Parents for Choice in Education. "We have put up the very best fight that we can considering that we don't have that built-in infrastructure through the public school system. ... I'm so proud of what we've done here."

But both sides agree the determining factor is going to be who shows up to vote.

"We knew coming into this that it was going to be all about voter turnout — it's going be about who's most motivated to get out and vote," Barker said. "We hope that in the end parents will illustrate with this vote their true frustrations and wanting an alternative and option."

Voucher critics say they don't want money going from cash-strapped Utah public schools into the private system. They also say that not all Utahns will have access to the vouchers and a number of counties throughout the state have no private schools. And since the highest voucher amount would only be $3,000, lower-income families would be hard-pressed to come up with the difference, critics say — making the voucher program something only higher-income families could take advantage of.

But voucher proponents say competition will only make public schools better and will provide more options for students. They also say low-income families will be helped the most.

Barker said Children First Utah, a charity organization that awards private school scholarships to low-income families, gives out hundreds of scholarships to families in poverty each year. Those awards average only around $1,600 a student but year after year those families have found ways to make up the difference, she said.

Last year, Children First awarded 360 scholarships to families that had an average income of $24,488 a year.

Voucher advocates on Friday also launched a new Web site that provides parents throughout the state with school pricing and mapping features that allow parents to comparison shop any private schools in their neighborhood.

AffordablePrivateSchools.com lets users sort schools by price, city, name, school size, classroom size and 15 other variables.


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