by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Terry McAuliffe made an extraordinary in-kind contribution to the campaign of his Republican opponent, Glenn Youngkin, when he declared during their debate that, “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach.” In no small part due to that one comment, a governor’s race that looked like a sure thing for Democrats is effectively a toss-up with a week to go.
If Youngkin manages to pull off the upset, most political observers will look at this McAuliffe comment as a turning point in the race. But while many people have portrayed the statement as a gaffe, in reality, all McAuliffe was doing was expressing a view that is held by an overwhelming majority of Democrats. And this is backed up by a new poll from USA Today/Suffolk, which shows a tied race.
At one point the pollsters asked, “Should parents or school boards have more of an influence on a school’s curriculum?” Overall, 50 percent said parents and 39 percent said school boards. But the partisan breakdown is something to behold. While Republicans, 79 percent to 12 percent, said parents should have more influence, the numbers were reversed for Democrats, with 70 percent saying school boards should have more of a say and only 16 percent siding with parents. Among independents, it was 57-32 in favor of parents.
Whether or not Youngkin is able to overcome the huge built-in advantages Democrats have in Virginia and emerge victorious, the competitiveness of the race suggests that Republicans running next year should lean into the idea of giving parents more of a say over their children’s educations. The issue has become even more salient as a result of the teachers’ union-driven school closures that forced parents to become more involved in what their children were being taught in public schools.