School Closures Drove Suburban Biden Voters to Youngkin, Focus Group Finds

Elections
Then Virginia Republican gubernatorial nominee Glenn Youngkin gives a thumbs up to the crowd during a campaign event in Leesburg, Va., November 1, 2021. (Elizabeth Frantz/Reuters)

A few weeks ago, I speculated that the endless school closures provided the initial spark for the backlash among Virginia’s parents that played a key role in Glenn Youngkin’s upset victory. Since then, a Democratic polling firm has conducted focus groups with voters in the Virginia suburbs who switched from Joe Biden to Youngkin, and found pretty much the same thing.

“These swing voters didn’t agree with what they thought the liberal position on race in schools was,” ALG Research writes in a summary report. “However, it wasn’t as salient as the fact that they felt Democrats closed their schools and didn’t feel bad about it. They also knew about his debate quote on parents; it clearly burned in and resonated with them.”

The report also notes:

School closures + COVID policy were a bigger factor than CRT. These voters were more animated talking about their dissatisfaction with their local school districts’ handling of COVID. They felt buffeted by changing and inconsistent policies and concerned about the impact on student learning loss, and there was a sense among some that Virginia was not following the science by keeping schools closed later than other states. One participant, a Biden voter, stated flat out that her vote for Youngkin “was against the party that closed the schools for so long last year.”

School closures turned out to be completely unnecessary from the perspective of reducing COVID-19 spread, and as Robert VerBruggen noted yesterday, another new study has show that remote learning was a complete disaster.

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I saw the focus group results via Jon Favreau, the liberal Pod Save America co-host and former Barack Obama speechwriter, who was urging his Democratic followers to take a close look at it.

If the takeaway of the Virginia race is to make Democrats at least slightly more skittish about COVID-19 restrictions in the future, that alone will have made it worthwhile.

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