The writing is on the wall, and it has been for some time now. Democrat support is waning. Across the nation, even the most loyal to the party are beginning to question its leadership. Furthermore, the one area that seems to be getting a lot of negative Democratic press is education.
For years, make that decades, when it involved education, Democrats enjoyed a huge advantage. Democrat support for issues such as school spending and public education fell in line with how Democratic leaders kept their close ties with teachers’ unions and those inside the higher education realm. Those who gave their unwavering Democrat support were those who also fully backed public schools, colleges and universities, and their teachers.
Lately, though, this unwavering Democrat support is beginning to waver in ways not seen in a long time. Issues like school closures, mask mandates, parental rights (or lack thereof), the teaching of critical race theory, gender identity, and a number of other issues have begun to take their toll at the polls. The Democrat leaders’ close relationships with public schools and colleges, which was once a major strength, now may be hurting Democrats to the point of no return. “Democrats are losing the plot relative to the median voter,” so says Ruy Teixeira. Teixeira is the co-author of The Emerging Democratic Majority while also working as a political scientist at the Center for American Progress. He has a good understanding of where Democrats were and now, where they are heading.
Teixeira, as with many Democrats, had front row seats last fall during the Virginia gubernatorial race when Republican Glenn Youngkin easily took out incumbent Democrat Terry McAuliffe. It was the exclamation point to the fact that Democrat support was falling fast. Youngkin took what was once a Democrat strength, education, and turned it against them by railing on how Democratic leaders have handled (or badly bungled) the COVID pandemic as it pertained to school closures, mask mandates, and parental rights.
Obviously, Youngkin’s rhetoric didn’t fall on deaf ears. It even had the staunchest of Democratic supporters turning tail. Michael Signer is the author of Cry Havoc: Charlottesville and American Democracy Under Siege and the former Democratic Mayor of Charlottesville. He wrote a great op piece in the Time explaining how he and his wife, parents of twin second-grade boys, and firm supporters of the public school education system, eventually turned away from it based on poor Democratic leadership.
As parents, they saw firsthand how the Virginia school closures, which were first to be for a short period of time, continued on and on, and when they finally came back, they were only open four days a week. Those who gave their Democrat support began to see, like the rest of the country, just what damage was being done to our children. They saw how the school closures affected all the children but had a greater effect on children with disabilities or children from poorer families. They saw, in all kids, an increase in anxiety, stress, loneliness, frustration, discipline, sadness, and hyperactivity. All under the watchful eye of Democrats, who didn’t appear to be fazed.
Angie Schmitt, author of Right of Way: Race, Class, and the Silent Epidemic of Pedestrian Deaths in America, opened her op-ed piece in The Atlantic by firmly stating, “Until recently, I was a loyal, left-leaning Democrat, and I had been my entire adult life.” Schmitt goes on to explain that she “hated Donald Trump so much that I struggled to be civil to relatives on the other side of the aisle.” While she has not gone so far as to completely remove herself from the Democratic party, she says that based on what her family has had to deal with during the COVID pandemic, her Democrat support has fallen drastically. “I can’t muster the same enthusiasm.”
So, just how far has Democrat support fallen? According to New Models and Winning the Issues, two public opinion research sites, they have been tracking these issues for nearly 20 years. Both sites have consistently asked the same question of pollsters – “Which party [they] have more confidence in to handle the issue of education, the Republican Party or the Democratic Party?”
As shown over the years, Democrat support has been sizeable when it comes to how positive the public feels towards the Democratic leadership’s views on education. The average lead Democrats enjoyed over this timeframe was 15 points and not one time did Republicans enjoy any sort of advantage. According to the polls, in a ten-year time span, 2003-13, Democrat support usually hit 55 percent, if not higher. But since 2014, that number has steadily declined. In fact, as 2022 hit, it was the first time in the past 20 years that Democrat support for education has dipped below 45 percent. For only the second time (the first being the Common Core debacle of 2014), the Democratic lead over Republicans has dropped into the single-digit territory.
Is there a way back? Can Democratic leaders do anything to gain back the Democrat support they have lost over the past few years? Their firm stance on education issues is not helping them any. Parents are fighting for more say so in their children’s public education and the Democrat leaders don’t seem to be willing to bend. Time is short and November is getting closer and closer by the day.