Strong Public Schools Messaging Key To Winning In 2022 Elections, New Polling Shows
Illustrates how right-wing culture war messages failed to resonate with voters
The National Education Association today released new polling highlighting how education issues played in the 2022 elections, where support for strong public schools was key to winning and right-wing culture war attacks failed at the ballot box.
“In this last election, we saw once again that the majority of Americans want the same thing – thriving communities with good jobs and strong public schools where all students – Black and white, Native and newcomer, Latino and AAPI alike - have the resources and opportunities to grow into their full brilliance. Voters rewarded candidates who articulated a clear, positive message about public education. They supported leaders who have focused on investing in our schools, partnering with educators and parents to help all students, and supporting working families. Conversely, parents and voters explicitly rejected extreme politicians who engaged in the politics of division, politicizing our classrooms, banning books, dragging their culture wars into our public schools, and pushing failed privatization schemes,” said National Education Association President Becky Pringle.
Voters rejected these right-wing efforts, up and down the ballot, as pro-public education candidates won in nearly every competitive gubernatorial race, 71% of the school board races NEA was tracking this cycle, major legislative seats and chambers, as well as other key federal, state, and local offices.
Parents and voters supported candidates running to strengthen public schools, get students the one-on-one support they need, keep students safe by keeping guns out of schools, address educator shortages, and ensure students are learning the practical and technical skills needed to succeed.
- Teachers are viewed favorably, including by Republicans. Views about teachers and public schools remain as favorable now as in a similar poll conducted in August. Voters are very positive toward schools in their neighborhoods (57% favorable, 18% unfavorable) and toward public school teachers (65% favorable, 15% unfavorable). Parents are overwhelmingly favorable toward teachers (71%) and most Democrats (84%), independents (61%), and just about half of Republicans (48%) are favorable toward teachers as well (26% unfavorable).
- School shootings, teaching “a complete, honest history,” school funding, and book banning were top factors driving the vote. Not only did culture war topics not drive vote-motivation, voters say other education issues were “major factors” in their vote. From a list of 18 education topics, over half considered school shootings, a lack of “complete, honest” history, inadequate school funding, and book and topic bans to be major factors in their vote.
- Critical Race Theory did not drive turnout or persuade voters outside the Republican base. Campaign spending and conservative earned media focus on CRT failed to drive more voters to the polls. Voters favorable toward CRT were just as likely to be more motivated to vote compared to previous elections (60%) as those unfavorable toward CRT (62%).
- Turnout in school board elections was also not driven by right-wing culture war attacks on public education. Nearly four-in-ten voters (37%) say there were school board elections on their ballot, and most of these voters say they voted in these contests (78%, and 29% of voters overall). While conservative Republicans are more likely to report school board elections were more important to them this year compared to previously, they are no more likely to say they actually voted in their own contests than other groups.
Even right-wing groups admitted that their candidates fell short in this election. Weeks before the election, the RNC saw warning signs that this was a failed strategy, telling their candidates that these issues only excite a fraction of their base and that other messages would be more effective at building winning coalitions. After seeing the results, the founder of the 1776 Project PAC told the Associated Press, “The messaging needs to be more positive…Sometimes you lose moderate voters because you’re too hyperbolic and you’re not speaking truth to something very local to them.”
And the Washington Post reported, “[T]hese attacks did not carry their proponents to victory, and the results called into question whether Republicans took the right lessons from recent history, said Michael Petrilli, president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a conservative think tank. ‘People looked at Youngkin’s victory and thought this would be a new way to win in purple states,’ Petrilli said. ‘What happened this year seems to raise some real questions about this strategy.’”
That is why America’s educators are again calling on everyone to come together to address the real challenges facing our students and public schools.
“Now that this election is over, it’s time for all of our leaders to focus on providing our students with the resources and support they deserve, respecting and adequately compensating our nation’s heroic educators and public employees, and strengthening public education as the cornerstone of our democracy and our communities,” Pringle added.
The National Education Association is the nation’s largest professional employee organization, representing more than 3 million elementary and secondary teachers, higher education faculty, education support professionals, school administrators, retired educators, students preparing to become teachers, healthcare workers, and public employees. Learn more at www.nea.org.