The mid-term elections are not quite settled. There is a run-off in the Georgia senate race. However, we are far enough out that we can confidently talk about the results of most of the elections and how key issues played out at the ballot box.
During this election cycle education was a key issue. Since 2020, angry parents have packed school board meetings and took over public comment to voice their discontent with everything from mask mandates to critical race theory. Conservatives took aim at LGBTQ+ material in school as well as transgender female athletes competing in women’s sports. Critical race theory became a popular boogeyman for parents who wanted to keep conversations about race out of school.
There was already a blueprint for success using this tactic. It is largely the strategy Republican Glenn Youngkin used to win his election for governor in Virginia which had been a solid blue-state since 2008.
So how did this platform work for Republicans? The results are mixed.
The challenging party typically enjoys the backlash against the ruling party. That was supposed to be the case here too. President Biden is objectively unpopular, and the economy is sluggish. Conventional wisdom says that, and the education backlash should have been enough to carry the day. However, Democrats held the line. They held their slim majority in the Senate and didn’t suffer massive losses in the House of Representatives. So as popular as the “parental rights” in education movement was, it didn’t seem to push Republicans over the top nationally.
However, it would be a mistake to take that to mean those issues didn’t move the needle. You just have to look locally. The conservative groups like the 1776 Project PAC poured money into school board races, and they did see some results. States where you would expect anti critical-race-theory and push back on LGBTQ+ accommodations to play well largely lived up to those expectations for Republicans. Governor Ron DeSantis has been checking all of the conservative education boxes since 2020. He and his party performed well in his state, including big conservative school board wins. A similar trend developed in Texas. But in other states like Michigan, Republicans suffered heavy education seat losses.
If there is one trend that can be gleamed from the primary mess is that the conservative grassroots parent movement that Republicans sought to turn into a national platform stayed local. That does make sense. After all, that is where the vast majority of education decisions will be made. But this means that it can be hard to predict how voters will operate even if they identify with said platform. In states like Arizona you can get a major conservative education victory like expansive school choice legislation, but get a Democrat senator in the same election cycle.
Obviously, the elections are not decided by any one issue. Truthfully as big of an issue as education became in this election it still wasn’t the main chip for either party – That would be the economy for Republicans and abortion for Democrats. Still it was a big enough chip to become a wedge issue, and you could see it’s impact on races down the ballot. The question is: did you see enough of an impact for it to make a return as a platform in 2024?