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Virginia Child Advocates Seek To Shift Focus Of Campaigns

with strong support from a new poll, children's advocates are seeking to shift the focus of the state's off-year campaigns to focus on child welfare issues that already enjoy strong public support.

In Virginia, just one of two states with off-year gubernatorial elections this year, child advocates have just kicked off an effort to bring children's issues to the fore of the campaign, releasing results of a new Mason-Dixon poll at a number of different events across the state.

Only 37% of Virginians think that the state's children will be better off than their parents are today when they grow up, according to the poll released on June 18. Nearly half of all Virginians—48%—think today's children will be worse off. The response to that long-term question contrasts sharply with the 54-28 majority that says the state is on the right track today in the same poll, Shifting focus to the long-term and the well-being of children today is one way of describing the purpose of Strong Kids, Strong Virginia, the non-partisan child advocacy campaign, which released poll as part of its statewide push this week to put children's wellbeing in the spotlight of the state's elections this year.

“In Virginia, more than 284,000 children live in poverty, more than 18,000 are homeless, one in six faces food insecurity, 148,000 still have no health insurance, thousands are unable to attend high quality early learning and care programs, and nearly 65,000 were reported victims of child abuse and neglect,” the group said in a press release.

There are strong indications that voters would be receptive to the shift in focus towards children's issues. Of those polled, 87% say child hunger is an important problem to deal with; 79% say that health care for kids is important; 78% say that after-school programs are important; 71% say pre-school education is important; and 54% say it's a "greater concern" that Virginia kids "won't have opportunities" than that "state taxes too high”, compared to just 36% who say the opposite. Significantly, views are similar among blacks (56-31) and whites (53-38).

What's more, 60% believe the government is not doing enough to ensure the health, education and well-being of Virginia's children, and almost 2-1 (64-35) agree that the next governor "must spend more time on kids" and "less on other things".

Steve Clermont, director of polling and research for Every Child Matters, the groups associated with the Strong Kids, Strong Virginia campaign will press state and local candidates to address such issues as crowded classrooms, hunger, and access to health care. "Most Virginians don't know where the candidates stand on these, and where current office holders stand," he declared. The campaign intends to encourage Virginians to come together to address children's issues, Clermont explained. "That's going to be sort of the basis of our campaign and messaging, is to make these issues far more visible, and show that there's a lot more that unites Virginians than divides them."

Most of the polling supports Clemont's contention, revealing a strong consensus in favor of more attention and state action to improve the welfare of Virginia's kids and help provide them a better future. But, even so, there are still strong partisan differences lurking beneath the surface. For example, in response to the statement “Government has a moral responsibility to provide financial support for poor, sick, kids,” the public overall agreed 65-33, just shy of 2-1. Democrats agreed almost 10-1: 88-10 among Democratic men, 90-9 among Democraitc women, while Republicans disagreed by single digits: 48-51 among men, 43-55 among women. Significantly, independent women were more like Democrats, 71-21, while independent men were almost identical to Republicans. 49-50.

What this shows, in effect, is that focusing on children's well-being is a way to focus supermajority support on issues that enjoy near-unanimity in the Democratic base. Given this golden opportunity, we have to wonder, as always, is anybody listening?

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