The Anti-Anti-Woke Vote
Anti-Anti, But in a Good Way
Two years ago, I hailed the Virginia election result as a harbinger of the anti-woke vote. This year’s Virginia vote reflects a swing toward the anti-anti-woke vote. Voters may not like wokeness very much—but it turns out they also don’t like the alternative Republicans have been offering.
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Glenn Youngkin was elected governor in 2021 based on a combination of three things: a reaction against the previous year’s race riots and “defund the police” campaign; widespread dissatisfaction with public schools staying closed too long during the pandemic; and popular resistance to “woke” leftist indoctrination in schools. This last became the decisive issue after the Democratic candidate, Terry McAuliffe, a former governor and longtime party hack, declared, "I don't think parents should be telling schools what they should teach." It implied that schools answer to the bureaucracy and not to the voters. He immediately sank like a rock in the polls and never recovered.
Yet just two years later, Virginia voters have swung the other way. Youngkin had sought to expand the Republican majority in the House of Delegates and dislodge the Democratic majority in the Virginia Senate. Instead, Republicans failed to take the Senate and lost the House. And Virginia is just a leading indicator. In Ohio, a referendum to protect the right to abortion in the state constitution passed resoundingly. In school board elections across the country, about two thirds of the candidates backed by the neo-Bircher group Moms for Liberty were defeated, and the ratios were worse in highly contested areas. It is being described as a “rebuke of culture war politics.”
If 2021 was a backlash against wokeness, 2023 is the backlash against the backlash.
To understand what happened here, you need to understand two peculiarities of Virginia politics.