The Most Important Election Of The Year!

A couple of items and an election forecast.

I sat down with MDRC’s Leigh Parise and William Corrin to talk about personalized learning and the ed scene on the MDRC podcast.

Today at 5pm ET Bellwether’s Alex Spurrier and I will be on Twitter Spaces discussing what we’re looking for tonight – besides whiskey – and some education implications.

On Wednesday morning, I’ll be at AEI to discuss election implications. You can also watch online. I’ll be discussing the same with PPI on a webinar later this week. And I’m doing an interview with Rick Hess for Ed Week on…yes…the same issues.

It doesn’t look good for the President’s party. Except for the 2002 midterms, which were exceptional, that’s basically the pattern so far this century. Voters are frustrated. Add to that President Biden’s weak approval numbers, serious inflation, which contra Joy-Ann Reid, is not some talking point Republicans cooked up but rather an issue that’s terrifying for working class and low-income Americans (and no fun for anyone else). And issues like crime and immigration where the Democrats are not effectively messaging and that’s a tough climate. I initially thought the abortion issue was baked in, then started to think maybe it might have more impact. But it in the end it seems more baked in. Meanwhile, gambits like student loan relief are backfiring with voters.

My hunch is the Rs get the House – though with precision redistricting even waves aren’t what they used to be. The Senate is a toss-up and you can’t count the Dems out as some candidates seem to be in front of the headwinds. But in the end you have to give the edge to the Rs because they have more paths to control and the issue environment is rotten for the Dems (arguably made even worse by the party’s positioning on a host of issues including schools). To put it in card playing terms, the Rs have many more outs. Get ready for HELP Committee Chairman Rand Paul.

Some of the best pre-reading is this exceptional polling by Pew. They do great work on issues that are not the horse race du jour but the conditions those horse races are being run in. Here’s a midterms overview. And here’s a look at crime. What is striking is the disconnect between what voters are most concerned about and what many Democrats chose to emphasize.

Although education is not a big factor in the midterms, outside of some atmospherics the Dems are still struggling to outrun, here’s a Pew deep dive on education. And the outcome of the election will definitely impact education from governor’s races to how national policy is shaped.

There is a through line I would draw between the crime data and education. Democrats have struggled to talk about crime. On social media you hear all the time that talking about crime is a racist dog whistle. Yet Black voters are more concerned about crime than any other racial or ethnic demographic. Voters want to hear candidates talk about taking it seriously and understand you can be for criminal justice reform and addressing crime at the same time. It’s not the choice it’s made out to be on Twitter. (It’s as though no one learned anything from the Boudin recall or Glenn Youngkin’s victory.) Only a third of white Democrats say crime is very important – yet 8 in 10 Black voters do. You see that same sort of blinkered vision play out in how things are discussed in our sector especially around issues like discipline but also more generally in terms of choice and a host of social issues. For both Democrats and the ed reform “movement,” success hinges on breaking out of the echo chambers.

What will I be watching tomorrow night for a sense of how it’s going? Early in the evening there are three House seats in Virginia that are competitive, held by Democrats Spanberger, Luria, and Wexton. Spanberger in particular is worth watching, good member of Congress, middle of the road. But she’s running in a redrawn district (where I live) and is up against a tough challenger. How the R challengers do in these three races will say a lot about how strong any wave might be. It will also be a signal about whether the diverse coalition Glenn Youngkin put together to win in Virginia (more diverse than a lot of people seem to realize) is durable or was a 2021 post-Covid or unique candidate one-off.

The Georgia Senate race is a clear bellwether, sorry, for candidate quality versus partisan momentum. And the Kemp – Abrams margin versus the Senate contest is an indicator to watch. And obviously Pennsylvania and Ohio Senate races – though PA could really drag out. Ohio is worth watching because objectively Republican J.D. Vance should be running further ahead of Rep. Tim Ryan than he seems to be. Is that because Ryan is running a masterful campaign, the polling is off, or is it because there is more Dem strength out there than the polls are picking up? I’ll also be watching margins in New York. Michigan’s gubernatorial contest does have some education themes and is also a good indicator of wether there is a real wave or a mixed verdict at the state level. Down ballot the Georgia state chief race bears watching.

Later in the night watch Colorado. How will popular Colorado Governor Jared Polis fare relative to Senator Michael Bennet, who is in a tough race. (I don’t understand why Polis is not in the presidential conversation more?) And what is the Ron DeSantis margin of victory in Florida? Some of his policies on education are more popular among Democrats than you might think. Does that show up at the ballot box?

The race for Arizona governor is another one to watch. Assuming her polling lead is real Kari Lake will immediately cut a school choice profile. She also has some wacky election ideas. Lake’s connections to choice and MAGA election denial will become a tension in education circles. The contest for governor in Wisconsin also has education implications, particularly for choice in the nation’s first choice state.

On the West Coast, the Oregon governor’s race is not normal. And Senator Murray in Washington state is in a tighter race than she should be. A small thing I noticed in October was the First Lady heading out to Washington to campaign for Murray. That’s not the kind of place you deploy a popular First Lady (who has a day job teaching and a tight schedule) given this year’s map unless you needed to. That race has education implications given Murray’s seniority and keen interest in education (she chairs the Senate committee that handles education and will likely become the ranking Democrat or chair of the powerful appropriations committee if she wins on Tuesday). Wes Moore is also one to watch on education. He seems certain to become governor of Maryland. You can add up the margins in all the close races and not come near his margin in the polls. Expect that to be a bright spot for the Dems.

After the votes are counted and we get better data, keep an eye on what the Republican coalition looks like. Democrats continue to have a stranglehold on the Latinx vote but are struggling with Hispanic voters and Hispanic elected officials. Can the Rs continue to make inroads with Black voters? How many non-white Republicans win in various races? As we’ve discussed, in the elite parts of the education sector, especially the non-profit education sector, you’ll sooner spot a unicorn than someone who appreciate that the only demographic group Trump lost ground with from 2016-2020 was white guys. It’s the inverse of the narrative. That’s a trend worth watching because it has education implications and school choice is a part of it. It’s noteworthy that statewide Democratic candidates this cycle embraced school choice in a way that would have been heretical just a few years ago.

Bottom line? When Democrats are struggling in the Pacific Northwest and Snoop is endorsing the former Republican in the LA mayoral race, well that tells you voters are running out of patience and the atmosphere is tough. That’s a problem considering some of the people on the ballot this year and their views on elections. But don’t despair, Democrats. Even if the election goes poorly you still have a powerful hole card: The Republicans.