Saturday, November 6, 2021

An interesting take on the 2021 Virginia Gubernatorial election

The Virginia Gubernatorial election was a predictably close one, and one that led to a GOP candidate winning this particular off-year election. I suppose there are any of a number of takes to be had. One factor that had my attention was the GOP candidate's (Youngkin) focus on Critical Race Theory (CRT) which is probably part of the curriculum in the context of advanced coursework in Legal Studies, but not a factor in the K-12 system. Youngkin made it a point to advocate for parents having "more of a say" in their kids' education, in the context of the moral panic over CRT that has developed over the past year. Did Youngkin's strategy work? The answer turns out to be complicated. Those who enjoy poring over the cross-tabs in public opinion polls found that it succeeded, but not in the way that it has been spun in the media:

The network exit poll, released on Nov. 2, showed the same pattern. Youngkin got 62 percent of the white vote and 13 percent of the Black vote, a gap of 49 points. But among voters who said parents should have a lot of “say in what schools teach”—about half the electorate—he got 90 percent of the white vote and only 19 percent of the Black vote, a gap of 71 points. The idea that parents should have more say in the curriculum—Youngkin’s central message—had become racially loaded. And the loading was specific to race: Other demographic gaps for which data were reported in the exit poll—between men and women, and between white college graduates and whites who hadn’t graduated from college—get smaller, not bigger, when you narrow your focus from the entire sample to the subset of voters who said parents should have a lot of say in what schools taught. Only the racial gap increases.

The exit poll didn’t ask voters about CRT, but it did ask about confederate monuments on government property. Sixty percent of white voters said the monuments should be left in place, not removed, and 87 percent of those voters went to Youngkin. That was 25 points higher than his overall share of white voters. The election had become demonstrably polarized, not just by race but by attitudes toward the history of racism. All the evidence indicates that Youngkin’s attacks on CRT played a role in this polarization. 

So, in a way, the strategy of honing in on this latest moral panic did work in gaining the favor of white voters, but that's it. As a newer Southern Strategy tactic, focusing on CRT, demonizing it, and tying it (inaccurately) to the public school systems is considerably more sophisticated than earlier efforts. The end result appears to be to further sow divisions among white voters, and between subsets of white voters and the rest of the voting population, in order to maintain hegemony. As a strategy, it may just work to an extent. School boards and more localized policymakers are ill-prepared for what awaits them in the upcoming months and years.

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