Childcare policies and priorities

The problem 

Across the country, Progressive organizations and politicians are pushing for a massive increase in government involvement in child care. Although increased government spending, programs, and regulation of child care often sounds beneficial to the average citizen, government intervention reduces child care options while increasing costs and decreasing flexibility for families. There are better ways to help families find and pay for good child care — for instance, tax credits and deductions, and deregulating some aspects of child care. Direct government spending and interventions make things worse for families overall.

But what are the best ways to explain the upside of alternative policies to help families and the negative consequences of government intervention in child care? 

The Independent Women’s Forum commissioned Evolving Strategies to conduct a randomized-controlled experiment testing the effectiveness of 4 different messages explaining why increased government involvement in childcare is counterproductive and harmful to families, and one Progressive message promoting greater government involvement. (See the full report here.)

Overview of the methodology

We recruited a sample of over 2,600 respondents from an online consumer research panel that approximates the U.S. population of registered voters on major demographic characteristics. Respondents answered a series of demographic and other control questions, and then those in the treatment groups received one, and only one, set of messages. 

Each respondent was then randomly assigned to one of the treatment conditions (where they read a childcare message) or the Control condition (where they read a non-policy, “placebo” message).

The respondents were not asked to evaluate the message. Following exposure to the messages, all respondents answered the same policy support and other “outcome” questions.

The sample was weighted to represent U.S. Census figures for registered voters on gender, race, education, and age. We conducted statistical analyses to compare policy support in the Control group (exposed to “placebo” message) to answers in the treatment groups (exposed to policy message). The difference between the average support levels in the treatment compared to the control group is due to the impact of the messages, as everything else about the two groups is otherwise the same.

Using this randomized-controlled experiment — the same design used for pharmaceutical research trials — allowed us to identify which messages were the most effective at shifting opinion against greater government involvement in child care.

Overview of the results

Voters don’t need to be persuaded to support child care tax credits and deductions — support in the Control condition is a remarkable 70 percent, with just 12 percent opposed. Voters are primed for hearing the truth about the tradeoffs and negative impacts of government interventions, and respond well to a message explaining the problems with child care regulations.

  • There is no need to argue in detail for childcare tax benefits — the public is already on board (70 percent support). The “Deregulation” message boosts support to an astonishing 79 percent. 
  • Voters are already skeptical about direct government funding of families for childcare (40 percent support, 35 percent opposed).
  • The “Daycare” message — which focuses on the downsides of daycare centers — reduces support for more government spending on childcare (-6 points) and boosts support for less spending (+12 points). 
  • The “Deregulation” message substantially increases support for deregulating child care (+12 points) and decreases opposition (-11 points).
  • The “Progressive” message is not generally impactful.
  • Bottom line: Voters prefer using tax benefits over direct government intervention in child care, and are open to some deregulation.
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