Yes, the polls could be off but it's not a good sign for McAuliffe that the polling has steadily trended against him and that the polling average, according to 538, now puts Youngkin in a slight lead.
We'll see who prevails on election day but it seems fair to say that this race is now a toss-up when it wasn't supposed to be. And that furthermore Youngkin's elevation of the education issue has just flat-out worked. Right now, polls have Youngkin way ahead among independents (+22 in the Fox News Poll, +18 in the Washington Post poll, +17 in the Echelon Insights poll) and, as Mona Charen notes at The Bulwark:
"[T]he issue that has arguably done the most harm to McAuliffe is education. Remember those independent and female voters who have moved so strongly toward Youngkin? That has coincided with the rise of education as a campaign issue. Women usually rank education as more important than men do. Between September and October, the number of Virginians listing education as a priority rose from 31 to 41 percent."
In the Echelon Insights poll, Youngkin is ahead of McAuliffe by 6 points on who is trusted on education and leads by 15 points (!) on that issue among K-12 parents.
The typical response among Democrats is that the issues raised by Youngkin on education are non-issues that amount to "racist dog whistles". This leaves Democrats powerless to figure out a way to respond to Republican attacks beyond accusing parents who might be worried about these issues of being racists. This is not effective as the Virginia campaign is showing. It's the Fox News Fallacy in action, as I have written previously--assuming anything raised by conservatives must be completely without merit and stern denunciation is the only option.
David Brooks puts his finger on something that most liberals are loathe to admit--clashes in the area of education are not simply a battle of good against evil but to a large extent a clash of subcultures where many, many voters do not find the progressive subculture an attractive alternative--and for some pretty good reasons.
"On behalf of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, Jeremy Stern reviewed the 50 state history standards in 2011 and then again in 2021. To his pleasant surprise, he found that the standards were growing more honest. States were doing a better job at noting America’s sins along with its achievements. The states that had the best civics and history standards were as likely to be red as blue: Alabama, California, Massachusetts and Tennessee (D.C. scored equally well).
In my experience, most teachers find ways to teach American history in this way, and most parents support it — 78 percent of Americans support teaching high schoolers about slavery, according to a 2021 Reuters/Ipsos poll.
But the progressive subculture has promoted ideas that go far beyond this and often divide the races into crude, essentialist categories.
A training for Loudoun County, Va., public school administrators taught that “fostering independence and individual achievement” is a hallmark of “white individualism.”
A Williams College professor told The Times last week, “This idea of intellectual debate and rigor as the pinnacle of intellectualism comes from a world in which white men dominated.”
If you want to stage a radical critique of individualism and intellectual rigor, be my guest, but things get problematic when you assign the “good” side of this tension to one racial category and the “bad” side to another racial category.
It is also becoming more common to staple a highly controversial ideological superstructure onto the quest for racial justice. We’re all by now familiar with some of the ideas that constitute this ideological superstructure: History is mainly the story of power struggles between oppressor and oppressed groups; the history of Western civilization involves a uniquely brutal pattern of oppression; language is frequently a weapon in this oppression and must sometimes be regulated to ensure safety; actions and statements that do not explicitly challenge systems of oppression are racist; the way to address racism is to heighten white people’s awareness of their own toxic whiteness, so they can purge it.
Today a lot of parents have trouble knowing what’s going on in their kids’ classrooms. Is it a balanced telling of history or the gospel according to Robin DiAngelo?
When they challenge what they sense is happening, they meet a few common responses. They are told, as by Virginia’s Democratic gubernatorial candidate, that parents shouldn’t tell schools what to teach. They are told they are racist. Or they are blithely assured that there is nothing radical going on — when in fact there might be.
Parents and legislators often respond with a lot of nonsense about critical race theory and sometimes by legalizing their own forms of ideological censorship. But their core intuition is not crazy: One subculture is sometimes using its cultural power to try to make its views dominant, often through intimidation.
When people sense that those with cultural power are imposing ideologies on their own families, you can expect the reaction will be swift and fierce."
I suspect this is part of what we're seeing the Virginia race. It's a sign Democrats need to take off their progressive subculture blinders and deal with the complex reality of public opinion on difficult issues.