AMAC Exclusive – By Claire Brighn
Late last week, Beto O’Rourke made headlines by becoming the first prominent Democrat to explicitly come out against Critical Race Theory (CRT) in schools. While that announcement is unlikely to save O’Rourke’s floundering gubernatorial campaign in Texas, it is an indication that at least some Democrats are coming to the realization that perceived support for CRT and politicized education is a major electoral liability – a fact made all the more apparent by recent public polling on the subject. But after first denying the very existence of CRT and then defending its inclusion in K-12 curriculum, Democrats may have already sealed their fate this fall.
According to a recent CNN poll, 46% of voters – including about half of parents with children under ages of 18 – said education would be “extremely important” in how they vote in the Congressional midterm elections this November. A recently released Cyngal poll makes the importance of education even more clear and finds that, among swing-state voters on the question of which party is more trusted to protect parental control in education, Republicans hold a 10-point lead, 47 to 37.
These numbers clearly have Democratic leaders on high alert. According to polling of voters in swing districts in late January and paid for by the Democrat Congressional Campaign Committee, Democrats would lose to Republicans by 4 points on a generic ballot. One of the big reasons why? An astounding 61% of voters surveyed agreed with the statement that “Democrats are teaching kids as young as five Critical Race Theory, which teaches that America is a racist country and that white people are racist.”
While such numbers may be easy to gloss over as obvious or self-evident, it’s worth noting just how significant those findings are. In today’s highly polarized political climate, it’s difficult to get a majority of voters to agree on anything – which means that a political party that can effectively appeal to those sentiments has a formidable advantage in any election.
What’s more, there is at least some reason to believe that the power of the concerned parent is likely underestimated in a number of these polls. Robert Cahaly of Trafalgar, one of the most accurate pollsters throughout the last several election cycles, made an important distinction months ago in saying that what people think of critical race theory itself is “very different” from what parents “think should be done if critical race theory came to their school.”
A recently released Manhattan Institute poll confirms this, showing that 54% of voters support removing “lessons based on critical race theory about concepts such as white privilege and systemic racism from public school curriculum.” But when the same question was asked of parents, that number skyrocketed to 66%, with well over half of every demographic concurring, including black and white parents alike. That could very well indicate that normally Democratic voters will be pushed to vote Republican by Democrats’ education extremism.
Americans already saw the power of this phenomenon last year in Virginia, when Republican Glenn Youngkin turned a 10-point victory for Joe Biden in 2020 into a 3-point Republican win in 2021. The pivotal moment in the race was when Democrat Terry McAuliffe said that “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach.” Even Democrats found in their own post-election research that voters swung over to Youngkin because “education dominated,” with CRT a top voter frustration. A Scott Rasmussen national poll conducted after the election in mid-December showed voters nationwide doubling down, with a resounding 85 percent agreeing with the statement that parents “should be allowed to see all curriculum, books, and other materials in classes their children are taking.”
Republicans in other swing states are already taking a page out of Youngkin’s book for their elections this year. In Wisconsin, for example, the Republican-led Assembly and Senate have hammered Democrat Governor Tony Evers over education. The Wisconsin Senate passed a bill on a near party-line vote that would ban the teaching of CRT in classrooms, only for Evers to veto it. (Evers, for context, has the endorsement and tens of thousands of dollars worth of campaign donations from the Wisconsin Education Association Council – a powerful group that actively promotes the 1619 Project.) A parental bill of rights was also recently shepherded by Wisconsin Republicans to Evers – which he also plans to veto.
Evers’s stance in favor of CRT in schools and against parental rights in education will likely do him no favors with voters, as according to a recent Marquette poll, an overwhelming majority of Independents in Wisconsin side with Republicans in saying parents should play the biggest role in deciding school curriculum.
Republicans in other states have followed suit, and candidates for everything from school board seats to governorships have now made parents’ rights central to their campaigns. Since the beginning of this year, lawmakers have introduced nearly 90 curriculum transparency and anti-CRT bills in 37 states.
Thanks to these efforts, the distinction between Republicans and Democrats on education is clearer than ever. As Democrats’ odds of winning this fall continue to fade, conservatives may finally have a golden opportunity to roll back decades of liberal activism poisoning school curricula – but only if Republicans continue to prioritize parents and students over special interests and fulfill their promises to enact lasting changes once they win power.
Claire Brighn is the pen name of a conservative researcher and writer with previous domestic and foreign policy experience in the Executive Branch.