On the eve of Election Day, a survey of young West Virginians has revealed that they are much more interested in a candidate’s positions on specific policies than his or her party affiliation.
Generation West Virginia, a statewide organization whose mission is to strengthen efforts to attract, retain, and advance young talent, released its Young Voter Report last week, highlighting the issue priorities of young West Virginians and what motivates their civic engagement.
Among the notable findings of the research was that 88 percent of respondents “moderately or strongly agree a candidate’s issue positions influence their vote more than party affiliation.”
Along similar lines, 48 percent of “young voters consider themselves outside the traditional two-party categories of “conservative” and “progressive.”
We hope that these findings give notice to candidates and elected officials that any politician that puts towing the party line ahead of responding properly to the concerns and hopes of their constituents does so at their own peril.
“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,” Generation West Virginia’s Executive Director Natalie Roper writes in her introduction to the report.
At the top of that list of interests is, naturally, opportunities for education. More than one third of respondents identified it as a top issue, mentioning specifically the quality of public K-12 education, access to, and investment in, higher education, and concerns of rising student debt.
The youth vote in West Virginia threatens to carry increasing weight in this election and in elections to come, with organizations such as Generation West Virginia and Inspire West Virginia doing a great job of boosting voting activity among young people.
Almost 70,000, or 25 percent of West Virginians ages 17-29, turned out to vote in the 2016 primary. Of the 27 states providing young voter data, West Virginia ranked eighth highest in young voter turnout in the 2016 primaries, surpassing our surrounding states of Virginia (18 percent), Ohio (23 percent), North Carolina (24 percent), and Pennsylvania (18 percent).