As the final hours of voting wind down in Virginia, the initial round of exit polling contains at least one piece of ominous news for Democratic Candidate Terry McAuliffe. According to an NBC News exit poll, an overwhelming majority of Virginia voters believe that parents should have “A lot” (53%) or “some” (31%) say in their school curriculum. Only 10% of respondents said that parents should have “not much” say, and only 3% said that parents should “not at all” have a say in their school’s curriculum.
These results may spell trouble for McAuliffe, because parental control over their children’s education has become perhaps the most galvanizing issue in the Virginia gubernatorial race. Parental confrontations with a number of Virginia school boards, including in Loudon County, have grabbed national news attention and have focused on issues like Critical Race Theory, graphic sexual content found in libraries, and one parent who angrily confronted the Loudon County School board when his daughter was sexually assaulted in a Loudon County School restroom.
Additionally, many parents were frustrated at the pace at which Virginia schools reopened for in-person instruction after the COVID-19 pandemic. Many schools were so reticent to reopen that the Democratic-controlled legislature was forced to pass a law earlier this year requiring school districts to offer in-person learning for the 2021-2022 school year. The law was bitterly opposed by teachers’ unions, local school boards and superintendents, which added to parental fury at educators in the commonwealth.
The turning point for McAuliffe may have well come when, during a debate in late September, he said, “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach.” Polls taken before that debate consistently showed McAuliffe with a 4-9 point lead over Republican candidate Glenn Youngkin. McAuliffe’s campaign seemed to immediately sense that McAuliffe stepped in it during the debate, immediately releasing an ad insisting that his remarks were being taken out of context, but the damage appears to have been done. After that point, McAuliffe’s lead in the polls melted away over the month of March, as most recent polls show either a tied race or a narrow lead for Youngkin.
McAuliffe may not have helped matters by inviting American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, who was perhaps the face of national school closures during the pandemic, to speak at his final rally yesterday in a move that was widely derided for its tone-deafness.
President Joe Biden won Virginia by over 10% in 2020, and if Youngkin is able to defeat McAuliffe in Tuesday’s election, it may spell trouble for Democrats in the 2022 Congressional elections.