Marc Caputo and Jonathan Allen of NBC News have joined the Ron DeSantis presidential campaign, publishing a DeSantis press release disguised as a news story under the headline “DeSantis’ Education Message Is Winning in Battleground States, Teacher Union Poll Finds.” Caputo and Allen write:
… one of the national teacher unions that opposes [DeSantis] released a battleground-state survey showing voters approve of DeSantis’ education policy positions, and even some of his rhetoric….
A major set of red flags in the poll for Democrats and teacher unions was a series of questions that look like they were ripped from DeSantis’ Friday speech on “critical race theory” and teaching kids about sexuality and gender identity. While the survey didn’t mention DeSantis by name, it tested education messages he popularized nationally — more so than Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin, a Republican who won in a Democratic-leaning state last year on a parental-rights education platform that was far less provocative than DeSantis’.
Before I get to some of the numbers cited by Caputo and Allen, let me note how deep in the tank for DeSantis these guys are. Not only are they presenting this as a triumph for DeSantis against liberalismpro-Democratic teachers’ union finds Republican governor’s rhetoric is popular) but they’re comparing DeSantis favorably to Youngkin — as if they’re already looking ahead to a 2024 Republican primary season in which DeSantis and Youngkin are the top contenders in the anti-Trump lane and they’re rooting for DeSantis to win.
So what’s the evidence that DeSantis owned the liberal teachers’ union?
One poll question found that voters, by a 32 percentage-point margin, said they were more likely to vote for candidates who believe public schools should focus less on teaching race and more on core subjects. By 27 points, they said schools should be banned from teaching sexual orientation and gender identity to kids in kindergarten through third grade. By 28 points, they said transgender athletes should be banned from competing in girls’ sports.
These numbers are in the survey — but elsewhere in the survey there’s evidence that respondents feel Republicans have gone too far, as I’ll explain. And these numbers don’t really reflect reality. DeSantis and other Republicans persuade voters that schools are talking about nothing but race and gender, while core subjects are ignored, and quite a few people find this persuasive. But their actions leave teachers afraid to talk about race at all, and unwilling even to acknowledge their own same-sex marriages in passing, or to acknowledge that some students are trans or have same-sex parents. And we know that the number of trans kids competing in girls’ sports is tiny, as even one Republican governor has acknowledged.
Here’s more evidence that Caputo and Allen are cheering DeSantis on:
The same poll suggests DeSantis has been smart about where to draw the line. Most voters said they would be less likely to back candidates who want to prosecute teachers for instructing students on critical race theory and gender identity. The same goes for candidates who want books removed from school libraries, although DeSantis on Friday bashed some books as being too sexualized, and some Florida schools are banning books.
Did I miss the moment when DeSantis decided to “draw the line” against criminal prosecutions of teachers and against banning books? And I love the concession at the end of the paragraph: Sure, books are being banned in Florida, but DeSantis is merely sitting by while this happens — he’s not personally tearing the books off the shelves and tossing them into bonfires. So he’s a moderate!
Wait — it gets worse:
“DeSantis has been reasonably shrewd in choosing his culture war initiatives, avoiding toxic ideas like criminally prosecuting teachers,” Guy Molyneux, one of the pollsters who conducted the survey, said in an email to NBC News.
“BUT, going forward I think he will struggle to distinguish his approach from general Republican efforts to enflame political wars in school systems, which voters really don’t want,” Molyneux said. “And [the Supreme Court’s abortion] decision, with Clarence Thomas openly threatening same-sex marriage, has made it much harder for DeSantis to avoid being lumped in with a party that wants to turn back the clock on rights that Americans now take for granted.”
Poor Ron DeSantis — he’s trying so hard to be a healer, but he might find himself trapped in a culture war he never made!
Here’s the truth about this survey. It involved 250 respondents each from Arizona, Florida and Georgia (which have Republican governors) and Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin (which have Democratic governors). Although the poll was skewed toward Republicans (48%-44%), most respondents (52%-40%) approved the way their governors are handling education, even though most respondents have Democratic governors. Most say the “public education system” is “working well” or “need some changes and improvements” (59%); only 39% say it needs “really major reforms” or “a complete overhaul.”
The respondents are split on what’s actually going on in the schools: 44% agree that “Public schools often go too far in promoting a political agenda in the classroom,” but 48% say that “Public schools generally stick to teaching appropriate academic content and skills.” Similarly, 44% say, “Teachers often go too far in promoting a political agenda in the classroom,” but 49% say, “Teachers generally stick to teaching appropriate academic content and skills.”
When asked, “If you heard there was a disagreement on an education issue between teachers and a group of conservative parents,” 48% would have more confidence in teachers, while 36% would have more confidence in the conservative parent group.
And 53% of respondents are “More concerned that politicians will ban books and censor topics that are educationally important,” while 40% are “More concerned that some students will be taught values and ideas that their parents feel are offensive or inappropriate”; 57% are “More concerned that political controversies over book bans and censorship will divert schools from their mission of educating students,” while 36% are “More concerned that some students will be taught values and ideas that their parents feel are offensive or inappropriate. “
There’s no question that some Republican cultural-war messages poll positively — as Caputo and Allen assert, respondents are more likely to vote for candidates who adopt some of these stances by twenty or thirty points. But the same is true for some Democratic messages: Respondent are 29% more likely to vote for a candidate who “Believes the school curriculum should represent and respect the experiences of students of color,” are 26% more likely to vote for a candidate who “Favors teaching students an anti-racist curriculum that builds on the varying cultures of students and their families,” and are 9% more likely to vote for a candidate who “Believes that schools should provide students with age-appropriate instruction on gender and transgender issues.” And opposing culture wars is extraordinarily popular: A candidate who “Says that we should not let politicians use culture war battles to distract us from the core mission of educating students” is 59% more likely to get a respondent’s vote, and one who “Says that teachers and parents should work together to help students succeed, and we shouldn’t let politicians divide us” is 70% more likely.
The rest of the Caputo and Allen article is reasonably balanced, and presents some of these numbers. But the lead paragraphs are pure press agentry on DeSantis’s behalf. And there’ll be more in-kind donations to DeSantis from the mainstream media over the next few years.
Posted with permission from No More Nice Blog