November 23, 2021


Youngkin’s Blueprint for GOP Victory

By: Cooper Conway

Virginia can officially say they run on Youngkin. A little over a week ago, Glenn Youngkin pulled off what most thought was impossible,  winning Virginia’s Gubernatorial election against Democrat Terry McAuliffe. Speaking near and dear to voter concerns, Youngkin and his team ran a campaign based on providing solutions to current issues affecting Virginians — chiefly education. 

Since Youngkin’s victory, conservatives have spotlighted education as a winning issue for future campaigns. Exit polls indicated that education was a top issue for voters in Virginia, trailing only behind the economy in importance. Luckily for Youngkin, he struck while the iron was hot. His success could provide a playbook for winning campaign strategies for Republicans nationwide. 

Focusing his campaign on education reform, Glenn Youngkin coalesced Virginians of various backgrounds to rally behind his ideas. From Glenn Youngkin’s willingness to acknowledge parent concern for the curriculum taught in Virginia’s schools, to promoting school choice as a way to help every student in Virginia, Youngkin supported a growing movement of parents demanding a more prominent role in their child’s education. 

This groundswell of families wanting to become more involved in education isn’t unique to Virginia; it’s a nationwide phenomenon. Over the last year, dozens of school choice programs have been created and expanded in nearly 20 states, mainly due to increased parental involvement in the policymaking process. In addition, politicians have been incentivized to support parents’ wishes, as recent polling shows parent support for school choice programs like education savings accounts, which allow families flexibility to use education dollars otherwise earmarked for public schooling on any education cost, is well above eighty percent

Moreover, according to polling from the American Federation for Children, general support for school choice has 74 percent approval among voters. The same poll found support for school choice crossed party lines, too, as 69 percent of Democrats and 75 percent of Republicans supported policies giving parents the right to use tax dollars at a public or private school best serving their children’s needs. Likewise, racial lines were crossed as 73 percent of white voters, 66 percent of black voters, 68 percent of Hispanic voters, and 66 percent of Asian voters supported elements of school choice.

In other words, polling shows most parents, whether they’re Black, White, Hispanic, Democrat or Conservative, want control over their kids’ education. That means taking power back from teacher unions, school boards, and big government.

Youngkin rode this wave in Virginia. His opponent, Terry Mcauliffe, on the other hand, did not.

Quite the contrary, in fact, as Virginia parents clamored for access to education options, McAuliffe actively campaigned against school choice. He even brought Randi Weingarten, a vehement opponent of school choice, to campaign on his behalf. McAuliffe’s history on school choice was already rocky. He vetoed multiple school choice programs in his last stint as governor, all while having sent his own children to private schools. This hypocrisy likely played a role in his loss, as voters say they are 62 percent less likely to support politicians who practice “school choice for me, but not for thee.”

The real nail in the coffin of McAuliffe’s campaign, however, was when he argued in a televised debate that he doesn’t think “parents should be telling schools what they should teach.” Even the eloquent President Obama was powerless to save McAuliffe after this debate blunder. Coming to McAuliffe’s aid, Obama only made matters worse by dismissing parent concerns over curriculum as a part of “phony trumped-up culture wars” promulgated by the right. 

At times it seemed Mcaullife was flat out unaware of his environment. In 2021, denying parents access to an increased stake in education is not a winning message.  

And where Mcauliffe went wrong, Youngkin went right. 

Youngkin’s education reform proposals along with his message of family empowerment was the winning formula in Virginia, and it should be the winning formula Republicans use moving forward. Indeed, the GOP should encourage Republican candidates to follow Youngkin’s lead, basing education reform on parents’ concerns. By doing so, the GOP can become the party of parents, forming a coalition with families from all backgrounds based on school choice and education freedom. That would be a formidable political force indeed.