Using Text Messages To Ask High School Students About Politics

Photo by Ashton Marra/100 Days in Appalachia

Photo by Ashton Marra/100 Days in Appalachia

When West Virginia Secretary of State Mac Warner announced last month that 22,518 high school seniors in the state had registered to vote in the past 18 months, it was a terrific sign that young people are feeling politically engaged.

It also hinted at the very real possibility that this youngest voting demographic may influence races in the November midterm elections.

In the aftermath of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting and the remarkable campaign of student activism that followed it, the national narrative was that high school students were part of a uniform, liberal Generation Z wave committed to tightening gun control laws, abruptly reversing the gun rights culture that marks American generations before them.

But teenage voters in Appalachia remain a largely unknown quantity. High school students here are rarely sought out by political pollsters, and little attention has been paid to their positions beyond high profile media coverage of gun violence and opioids.

While we can’t do much about politicians’ apparent disinterest in how young people feel about the big issues of the day, we can help news organizations in this region better understand– and report on– the viewpoints of these young citizens.

So we asked them.

In partnership with Inspire USA, and passionate and committed civics teachers across West Virginia, we were able to ask approximately 1,100 students from more than 20 schools how they feel about the pressing issues of today, including immigration, the environment, abortions, gun control, health care and LGBTQ rights.

In order to engage kids in a space where they were comfortable, we used a system called GroundSource that allowed us to conduct the polling via text message. Each question took the student only a few seconds to complete.

What we learned is that the prevailing wisdom that young Americans are socially liberal lefties that will undoubtedly vote Democrat does not accurately reflect the positions of students in West Virginia.

Nor are they Trump Country stereotypes….

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