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DeSantis’s critical race theory attacks fail to resonate with most parents, poll shows

Data shows Republicans playing to their base on culture war issues

John Bowden
Washington DC
Monday 16 January 2023 22:50 GMT
‘Do not apologise’: Ron Desantis defends Joe Rogan after use of racial slur

The GOP’s all-out attack on the visibility of LGBT+ Americans in the nation’s public school systems appear to be resonating with only a small sliver of parents across the country, raising questions about what effects that campaign will have in 2024.

A new survey from Hart Research Associates polled parents of school-aged children who are registered to vote across the US — the findings were definitive on the issue of critical race theory, the favoured boogeyman of conservatives like Florida’s Ron DeSantis.

Mr DeSantis signed a bill into law banning the teaching of the political and historical theory in April of 2022, despite the fact that there was no evidence of any teachers in the state actually presenting those ideas in the classroom. The theory is an academic means of examining how modern culture, laws, economics and poltics are affected by social concepts of racial identity, including the historical treatment of various racial groups in society.

Republicans have demonised the ideas of CRT and depicted them as fundamentally anti-American beliefs that seek to undermine patriotism and traditional American values.

"We believe in education, not indoctrination," Mr DeSantis said in 2022 when he signed the ban into law. "We believe an important component of freedom in the state of Florida is the freedom from having oppressive ideologies opposed upon you without your consent."

The Hart survey indicates that those efforts by Mr DeSantis in Florida are doing little to win him affection with a national audience, save for maybe the hard-right Republicans who will dominate the 2024 GOP primary should he choose to run for the nomination against Donald Trump.

Just over one in 10 parents ranked “making sure that schools do not teach critical race theory” as one of their top three priorities when thinking about making choices regarding the education of their children. Opposing teachers who are seen as pushing a “woke agenda” was similarly of little concern. “Giving parents more say over what children are taught” was only ranked slightly higher.

Parents who answered the survey were much more interested in more traditional concerns: making sure that kids learn practical life skills, like balancing their budgets, as well as ensuring that their children were improving their reading, math, and science backgrounds.

Critically, one finding may indicate that Mr DeSantis’s efforts in Florida are actually unpopular: nearly half of all parents who responded said that “ensuring that all children, regardless of background, have the opportunity to succeed” was among their highest concerns, suggesting that acknowledging America’s troubled history with race is expected.

Nearly three quarters of parents said that they believed teachers generally stick to appropriate subjects in the classroom.

Mr DeSantis is currently seen as the only Republican posting competitive numbers against Donald Trump in a theoretical GOP primary. That fact, along with his frequent nods to the right in rhetoric and policy have sparked rumours that he will challenge the former president in 2024.

The Hart Research Associates survey was conducted between 12-17 December of 2022. It included responses from 558 parents of children in public schools, 150 parents of public charter schools, and 30 parents of private schools. The survey’s confidence interval is three percentage points.

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