Every election cycle, a new type of mom voter emerges. Sometimes those mythical moms — soccer moms, safety moms, grumpy moms — represent a real voting constituency, but other times, they end up being candidates’ fantasies. And in the 2024 Republican primary, it could be the latter.

In his campaign, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is focusing on a group that might be called “anti-war” mothers, or perhaps “parental rights mothers.” (Let me know if you have a better nickname.) “We are about to launch the largest movement of mothers and grandmothers across the United States to protect the innocence of our children and defend the rights of parents are,” DeSantis’ wife, Casey, July launch said About her “Mamas for DeSantis” outreach initiative. As a father of three young children, DeSantis has also been offering stories about his children. In his political messages, he apparently hoped to address conservative parents’ concerns about school access and parental control.

This approach sets him apart from candidates like former President Donald Trump, who have full-grown children of their own. It is unclear whether this will endear him to Republican voters, who have resented DeSantis since the beginning of the year, when he was close to equaling Trump. our national primary voting average, Now, according to the average, Trump is ahead of DeSantis, his closest rival in the field, by about 40 percentage points. And while some Republican parents are concerned about the parental rights issues that DeSantis and his wife are highlighting, they don’t care He A lot, which makes it more likely than not that this angle will help DeSantis make up any ground he’s lost since the winter.

Over the past few years, DeSantis has made the issue of parental rights – in children’s education and health care – a centerpiece of his appeal to conservative voters. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, they pushed back policies This includes requiring children to wear masks, including a 2021 executive order designed to “protect parents’ freedom to choose” whether their children wear masks. Last year, He signed controversial legislation It prohibits public school teachers of young children from teaching about gender identity or sexual orientation in the classroom, with parents having the option of suing the school district if teachers don’t comply. that law was broadened To include all grades this year, with a measure Banning puberty blockers and other forms of gender-affirming care for minors.

At the core of DeSantis’s argument is the idea that parents’ ability to decide what is best for their own children is being taken away by the government—whether through masked mandates or classroom instruction that does not match their values. And superficially, that’s not a bad approach. According to A survey was conducted in September and October 2022 According to the Pew Research Center, Republican parents are more likely than Democratic parents to say that different levels of government have a lot of influence over what public secondary schools teach:

Parents differ on government involvement in schools

Number of parents who said they each have “a lot of influence” when it comes to what area public K-12 schools are teaching, by gender and party

republican dad republican mom Democratic father democratic mothers
federal government 58 45 19 21
state government 41 40 27 28
local school board 31 26 17 18
Student 17 18 13 14
Guardian 9 8 22 17
Teacher’s 20 13 10 8
headmasters 16 12 11 7

Source: Pew Research Center

Republicans — especially Republican fathers — are especially likely to say that the federal government has too much influence, which is probably why Casey DeSantis continues to talk about the mask mandate, even though it’s a is not an issue that is emerging as much in the daily lives of parents. , (A 2022 Ipsos/NPR Poll found that 44 percent of Republican parents say students and teachers at their child’s school almost never wear masks, up from 2 percent who said so in 2021.) first minute of video They started their “Mamas for DeSantis” initiative, babies cry as nearby adults place masks over their faces. “It’s such a vivid, stark reminder of the government telling you what your kids can do,” he said. laurel elderProfessor of Political Science at Hartwick College, who has written about political appeals to parents.

The problem for DeSantis is that the other issues he’s focused on — especially when it comes to what schools are teaching — are of even less concern to Republicans. In its 2022 survey, Pew found that a majority of Republican parents (53 percent of fathers and 62 percent of mothers) are extremely or very satisfied with the overall quality of education their child receives at school. A relatively small proportion of all parents, regardless of party affiliation, say they are not very satisfied with the amount of input their child has in what they learn at school. And when asked whether the teachers and administrators at their child’s school share their own values, Republican and Democratic parents are virtually indistinguishable: A small majority of all parent groups say they do. Values ​​are at least somewhat similar to their own values.

When pollsters delve deeper into specific issues related to education and what should be taught in schools, large ideological differences emerge between Republican and Democratic parents. Pew found that Republican fathers (72 percent) and mothers (63 percent), for example, are more likely than Democratic parents (23 percent for mothers and fathers) to say they wish they had Let the child learn that slavery is a part of American history, but it does happen. It would have no effect on the status of black people in American society today.

What is missing in the data, however, is whether parents are genuinely concerned about what their children are being taught. Guardian to do They care about some issues related to their children’s education – they are not particularly divisive. In Ipsos/NPR survey conducted May 5-11, Republican parents (69 percent) were just as likely as Democratic parents (76 percent) to say they were aware of teacher shortages. Meanwhile, a majority of parents of all political persuasions said there has recently been a teacher shortage in their community, while non-parents were much less likely to say they had heard about that issue in their community.

There’s also no clear evidence that Republican parents are even listening to what politicians like DeSantis are doing. According to a 2023 Ipsos/NPR poll, 69 percent of Republican parents agree that teachers are professionals who should be trusted to make decisions about classroom curriculum. In that survey, Democratic parents were more likely than Republican parents to say they were aware of schools banning books in classrooms or banning discussion of gender, sexuality, race or racism. And Republican parents were more likely than non-Republican parents to say that books were banned or discussion in the classroom was banned. No happened in their community.

Meanwhile, Republican parents may not be as enthused about DeSantis’ solutions. In a 2023 Ipsos/NPR poll, nearly half (47 percent) of Republican parents oppose state lawmakers passing legislation to ban certain books and remove them from classrooms and libraries, while 41 percent are in favor , and they are equally divided on whether they should support state lawmakers in enacting policies to restrict what topics teachers and students can discuss in the classroom. They are more in favor of handing that power over to individual school boards (53 percent support school boards restricting topics that can be discussed in class), but not by and large.

And then there’s the fact that when, in the same poll, parents were asked to choose the topics they find most worrisome, only 17 percent of Republicans chose education—inflation or rising costs (52 percent). , gun violence (28 percent), government budget or debt (28 percent), political extremism or polarization (21 percent), immigration (21 percent) and taxes (21 percent), less than the share choosing crime or crime.

The key point here, according to Elder, is not that appeals to parents are politically useless. “Being a parent is a very powerful identity that can be helpful for politicians, if they can take advantage of it, it doesn’t have any downside,” he said. DeSantis’ problem is that culture-war issues involving education don’t seem particularly persuasive to parents, even Republican parents. “There is clearly a passionate minority population of people who are disproportionately Republican who are passionate about this issue,” he said. “But overall these are not the issues that parents are concerned about.”

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