November 2, 2021
How Education Became the Top Issue in the Virginia Governor's Race

How Education Became the Top Issue in the Virginia Governor's Race

Tony Perkins

All eyes are on Virginia today with the state poised to elect their next governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, and delegates. As the Commonwealth voters head to the polls today, the top issue on their minds is one that nobody was predicting a few months ago: Education. A poll from Washington Post-Schar School released Friday revealed that education has surged to number one on the list of voters' concerns -- with 24 percent saying what's happening in the classroom will help them make their choices at the ballot box. In fact, the number of Virginians listing it as their top issue is up nine points from the same group's previous poll taken just last month! This is especially noteworthy when it's put in context of the other issues on people's mind: COVID-19, vaccine mandates, the economy, jobs, inflation, and the supply chain crunch.

It's also significant that Republican Glenn Youngkin's rise in the polls has paralleled with the state's interest in education. In the Virginia's governor's race overall, Youngkin was consistently trailing by about six points a couple of months ago. Now, the gap has completely closed and several polls even show him a little ahead. The conventional narrative is that education is not a winning issue for Republicans, but this race is proving that doesn't have to be the case.

Fox News's poll that also came out Friday showed Virginia parents who are also likely to vote are supporting Youngkin over Democrat Terry McAuliffe by a margin of 56 to 42 percent. For an apples-to-apples comparison, that same segment of Virginia voters in the Fox October poll had favored McAuliffe 53 to 43 percent. That's a 24-point swing in a single month among parents!

So what got us here? Obviously, there've been significant national and state-level developments playing into this. At the national level, more and more parents became aware of what their children were being taught when they were forced to learn from home due to the pandemic. Critical race theory, which an Economist YouGov poll showed to be viewed unfavorably by 58 percent of Americans, emerged as a top national issue as parents gained awareness of how this was being forced in schools. Parents increasingly started pushing back and expressing their serious concerns. Then the National School Boards Association asked the federal government to crack down on parents and protests as a form of "domestic terrorism." In response, U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland announced that the FBI would start cracking down in local communities. Americans everywhere were outraged at the effort to suppress something as basic as getting involved in the education process.

In Virginia specifically, more fuel was added to the fire. In the final public debate, Terry McAuliffe said, "I don't think parents should be telling schools what they should teach." When later asked by a reporter how he would work with parents who have concerns (should he be elected governor), he immediately dismissed the concerns and called this a "divisive tactic." Additionally, news surfaced this fall of a biological male who identified as a female sexually assaulting two female students at two different school campuses in Loudoun County -- one in the girl's bathroom. School officials then tried to cover the situation up and were dismissive of the safety concerns of parents, who like former president Barack Obama, called it a "phony culture war."

Parents have been voicing concerns for years that policies like the one in Loudoun County can put female students in an unsafe position in bathrooms, showers, and locker rooms. Glenn Youngkin quickly demanded resignations of the officials responsible and called for an investigation to ensure students are kept safe in schools. Terry McAuliffe has basically remained silent on the issue.

In the next several hours, we'll see what the voters of Virginia decided. Either way, as governor's races go, no one can deny the major issue education has become in what has become the most-watched race on the ballot November 2nd. Parents and concerned citizens have made it clear that standing up for our children in schools, monitoring curriculum, and keeping students safe are not just the right things to do -- they're also the right issues to focus on come election time.