Rage about school closures and mask mandates is not nearly as widespread as the media has told you

Rage about school closures and mask mandates is not nearly as widespread as the media has told you

After Republican Glenn Youngkin won the Virginia governor’s race, everywhere you looked you’d see media coverage suggesting that a key reason was parental frustration over school closures and mask mandates during the COVID-19 pandemic. That analysis of Youngkin’s win has translated to a dire warning to Democrats that angry suburban parents will turn against them en masse over public health restrictions in schools. But is it accurate? A new poll points to no.

The new installment of the Axios/Ipsos Coronavirus Index finds that most parents are actually happy with how their local schools have handled the pandemic. Overall, 71% of adults and 75% of parents gave their local schools a positive rating on balancing health and safety with other priorities. Among parents, 22% said schools had done “a very good job,” and 53% said schools had done “a somewhat good job.”

Democrats were the most positive about schools, with 78% positive views, while 71% of independents and 68% of Republicans (which is a lot!) said schools had done a very or somewhat good job. Interestingly, that means that schools got overall higher marks than governors or local governments—but they were less likely to be rated as having done a very good rather than somewhat good job than were governors. 

The fact that non-parents were slightly more likely to have a negative view of how schools have handled the pandemic, and somewhat less likely to have a strongly favorable view, is suggestive: Has Republican propaganda about how terribly schools and especially teachers unions have treated children landed more strongly with the people who aren’t experiencing it close up?

This is a national poll. As such, it doesn’t speak directly to whether the widespread claims about the role of school closures in Youngkin’s win are correct. A significant number of parents in Virginia may have been angry about this issue and changed their votes because of it. But what it does mean is that Virginia can’t be extrapolated to the nation as a whole.

Decisions about school closures and mask mandates have happened mainly at the state and local level, which means that people—or at least parents who have directly experienced it—are responding to dramatically different things in this poll. In some cases, parents say their schools handled the pandemic well by having mask mandates and closures. In others, they’re saying that what schools did right was stay open and not require masks. So we can’t look at this poll and say that one policy is the most popular. We can look at it and say that there is no widespread rage about school closures across the nation. Just 9% of parents and 7% of non-parents say their schools did a very poor job. Could that provide the tipping point in a very close election? Sure. But it’s not something that should be launching a thousand alarmist trend pieces.

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