WASHINGTON (AP) _ Political candidates should recognize that fathers _ not just mothers _ also care deeply about school violence, education and the difficulties of balancing work and family, says a poll released Thursday by a parents organization.

``Politicians are focusing on soccer moms, working moms and mothers, while they ought to be looking at parents,'' said Nancy Rankin, a researcher for the National Parenting Association.

The group says the more than 60 million parents of children under age 18 could be a potent political force if candidates target issues they care about.

``Parents as a group have a number of common concerns, above all the work-family time crunch and the concern about violence and their children,'' said Craig Charney, who conducted the poll. ``They're also particularly focused on practical priorities like education, health care and gun control.''

He noted overwhelming support in the poll for such policies as trigger locks for guns, education funding, tax incentives to encourage ``family friendly'' policies and health insurance for children that cuts across lines of gender, race, income and party affiliation.

More than 80 percent of fathers and 90 percent of mothers surveyed favor requiring trigger locks or safety devices with guns, tax breaks for higher education, tax incentives to encourage family friendly policies and health insurance for every child, the poll found.

``The most compelling thing was that fathers felt as strongly as mothers on many of these issues,'' said Ruth Wooden, the association's president.

The survey of 650 parents was taken Jan. 26 to Feb. 8 and had an error margin of plus or minus 4.5 percentage points.

The presidential campaigns of Republican George W. Bush and Democrat Al Gore talk of themes aimed at families, but will miss an opportunity if they target their pitches toward women instead of parents in general, Charney said.

Some recent polls suggest Bush has been stronger among parents than Gore.