On Tuesday, November 8thth Americans will go to the polls to elect 435 congressmen, 35 senators and 36 governors.
According to our survey at EdChoice, education issues rank fifth among voters in both state and local elections, followed by economic issues, women’s issues, health issues, and security issues. In the case of the seven topics that we survey at federal level, they even come last (behind the four topics already mentioned as well as the senior citizens and energy topics).
While education qua education may not play an outsized role in determining who wins and who loses in November, there are three interesting poll numbers that get caught up in the maze of thoughts and feelings shaping voting behavior. Understanding these three outcomes can help complete the picture of how Americans, especially parents, feel as they prepare to vote.
Topic #1: The Coronavirus
Since May 2020, we’ve been asking parents if they’re comfortable sending their kids to school given the pandemic. For months, opinion was fundamentally divided. 45 to 55 percent of respondents reported feeling comfortable, meaning those who reported not feeling comfortable also fell into this range. Only at the end of the 2020-2021 school year did parental comfort consistently decline by 60 percent.
This is a commonly misunderstood phenomenon. Ask people who were interested in keeping schools open during this time and you get the impression that 70 or 80 percent of parents felt the same way. Ask those who wanted to continue with distance learning and you will hear the same thing. Even if only 45 percent of people in a large country agree with you, that’s a massive number and can make people feel like they’re in the majority even when they’re not.
Part of what has made this period so divisive is how evenly the coronavirus has split the population in two. But those times seem to be over.
According to our latest poll conducted on September 16thth until 17th, 78 percent of parents now say they enjoy sending their children to school, and only 18 percent say they don’t. This agreement has eliminated a tremendous amount of tension and discord. Yes, the scars of difficult and divisive arguments over what schools should do in response to the pandemic are still there, but the daily bumpy battles seem to have eased.
#2 The politicization of schools
Advocates on both sides of the political spectrum have spent the last few months telling us that our schools have been politicized. Whether it’s how history or human sexuality is taught or what books are allowed in the library, the left say schools are being overtaken by conservatives and the right say they are being overtaken by liberals. Part of the get-out-the-voting strategy appears to be an attempt to persuade people to elect officials who will either stop this politicization or steer it in voters’ preferred direction.
But what do parents think? For the first time in our survey, we asked parents in September, “To what extent do you think your child’s school shares your political views?” The results may surprise you.
Only 37 percent of parents said their school was political. The majority of parents either said they didn’t think their child’s school was political (37 percent) or simply didn’t know if it was political or not (26 percent). Of those who said their child’s school was political, 17 percent said the school shared their political views. That means only 20 percent of parents said their child’s school was too political. Ideologically, it was almost evenly split, with 8 percent of parents saying their child’s school was too conservative and 12 percent of parents saying their child’s school was too liberal.
As I mentioned above, 20 percent of a big number is still a lot of people, and when they go on social media or appear on the news, they can feel like the majority. But they are not. Most parents find their child’s school either not too political or not political at all.
#3 The great parental fear
The seam that runs through the previous two arguments is that Americans seem less divided and politicized than people might think. If elections are viewed as “change” vs. “continuity,” both would suggest that people are comfortable with continuity.
Here’s a number to change. Since the Uvalde tragedy, we’ve asked parents, “How concerned are you about a violent intruder, such as a mass gunman, breaking into your child’s/children’s school?” In September, 46 percent of parents said they were either “extremely” or “very” concerned about the event.
Since almost half of parents are so concerned every day, they have to consider their opinions about politics and the world in general and what they want to see. When we asked for solutions to this problem, parents are completely divided, and there are few, if any, solutions that garner a majority of support. But what parents want to do about this problem is probably less relevant than its simple existence.
People don’t want to live in fear of a Sagittarius entering their child’s school. Regardless of whether their solutions to this problem fall on the right or left of the political spectrum, there is a strong argument that they want some kind of change.
Whether the 2022 midterm elections will be a vote for change or a vote for continuity remains to be seen. We’ll have to look at the results to see which one carries the tag.