Improving education, increasing jobs, boosting the economy, protecting the environment and promoting equality – those were the top five issues cited by young West Virginia residents in a new report released by Generation West Virginia last week. In the winter of 2016, Generation West Virginia, which works to attract and retain young talent in the state, conducted a political engagement study, polling 507 West Virginia residents between the ages of 18-45.
West Virginia loses an average of 44 people per day, according to U.S. Census data from 1950-2000, which is included in the report. The West Virginia University Bureau of Business and Economic Research’s 2014 population trends report estimates that by 2030, nearly one in four West Virginians will be more than 65 years old and West Virginia’s population will have dropped by 20,000.
“As Nov. 8 approaches, this data outlines the interests and motivations of young West Virginian voters,” said Natalie Roper, executive director of Generation West Virginia, on Monday. “However, this data’s importance extends beyond the election as it highlights the issues that drive this generation of West Virginians in choosing not only how to vote but where to live and work.”
The study found that young people care less about a candidate’s political party affiliation and more about the candidate’s position on the issues when casting their votes. Eighty eight percent of young voters moderately or strongly agree a candidate’s position on an issue influences their vote more than party affiliation. And 48 percent of young voters consider themselves outside the traditional two-party categories of “conservative” and “progressive.”
When asked for the most important qualities they look for in a candidate, young voters in West Virginia said a candidate’s alignment with their ideology and issues was the most important, followed by honesty and integrity.
The study’s results reveal insight beyond what voters are thinking about as they head to the polls. By asking young West Virginians to list the three most important issues to them this election, the study not only shows respondents’ voting priorities, but it shows that a quality K-12 education, ever rising college costs, lack of job diversity and West Virginia’s overall economy are some of the biggest challenges facing young West Virginians today.
“By understanding what young West Virginians see as the state’s greatest assets and challenges, we can better align our programmatic and policy priorities to build upon what’s working and fill in the elements that are missing,” said Natalie Roper.
Also included in the report is a study from the summer of 2015. The summer study found that the top five challenges young West Virginians face were lack of access to quality jobs, lack of diversity of activities and restaurants, lack of affordable and quality rental housing, an aversion to change, and poor infrastructure.
It’s top five assets, according to the 314 young West Virginians survey in the summer 2015 study, are the state’s prominent outdoor recreation lifestyle, cost of living, the kind and proud people in West Virginia, the beautiful natural scenery, and the potential to make impact as a young person.
“In order for West Virginia to better attract, retain, and advance young talent, we must also be a state that listens to and truly values the interests and motivations of those we seek to attract and retain,” said Natalie Roper. “Issues that are important to young voters are important for West Virginia’s future.”
To download the report and for more detailed information, visit generationwv.org/research.