Skip to content

The youth vote: What do North Carolina’s young people think about local issues?

In October and November, more than 5,300 high school students in North Carolina voted in First Vote NC’s local election simulation.

Students in 47 schools across 33 counties participated in the election, casting ballots using their cellphones, laptops, and school desktops.

High school students voted on local municipal races, casting ballots for mayor and city council in many municipalities. Teachers used First Vote NC’s lesson plans aligned with North Carolina civics standards to supplement the voting experience for students.

At Reid Ross Classical School, teacher Tatum Weaver invited city council candidates to speak to her students prior to the election so they could be fully informed when they voted.

Students also voted on 10 issue-based questions developed with feedback from the North Carolina School Boards Association. These questions focused on issues under local government control, such as education, parks and recreation, and police. Students also completed an exit poll, answering questions on demographics, religion, and parental voting behavior.

The answers to the issue-based questions and exit poll provide an intriguing window into the future of this state.

Local issue-based questions

Students responded to statements about local government issues by stating how much they agreed or disagreed with that statement. The charts below show how students across the state answered. In total, 5,316 responses were recorded.

 Here are some highlights from the responses.

Most students believe their education is setting them up for success

The good news for educators in North Carolina is that 73 percent of students feel their education is preparing them for college or a career, with only 13 percent disagreeing and 13 percent unsure. Among those who agree that their education is preparing them for college or a career, 34 percent strongly agree, which is the highest percentage of students who strongly agree among the ten questions.

Additionally, almost two of every three students (63 percent) agree most of their classes are small enough to meet their academic needs, with 20 percent unsure and 17 percent disagreeing. Two of every three students (66 percent) also agree that there is at least one adult at their school they can talk to about personal issues.

Fewer than half of students see job opportunities in their communities

Only 41 percent of students feel like they have job opportunities in their community if they wish to remain after high school or college graduation. 32 percent of students are unsure, and 27 percent of students disagree that there are job opportunities if they remain in their communities.

In connection with jobs in their communities, students are interested in internship opportunities in their communities. Two-thirds of students are interested in internship opportunities connected to their high schools with only 10 percent of students not interested. High schools should work with local businesses to establish internship opportunities and strengthen the pathways from school to careers in their local communities.

Students are split on global warming and community-police relations

On the issue of global warming, 56 percent of students agree global warming will negatively impact North Carolina within the next 50 years, which is a higher percentage than the average American. According to a Pew Research Center survey conducted in May and June, 2016, roughly four in 10 Americans believe climate change will have negative effects on wildlife, shoreline, and weather patterns. 33 percent of students are unsure and 11 percent do not agree that global warming will negatively impact North Carolina in the next 50 years.

On police and community relations, 46 percent of students believe the relationship between police and members of their community is positive, 34 percent are unsure, and 20 percent either disagree or strongly disagree. Breaking these results down by race and ethnicity reveal that Whites are more likely to agree that relationships with police are positive (56 percent) compared to Asians (42 percent), Hispanics (37 percent), African Americans (35 percent), and Native Americans (33 percent).

Exit poll data

The exit poll data signals what our state will look like in the future. In particular, it reflects trends such as decreasing religiosity, more people getting their news from social media, and fewer people identifying as Democrat or Republican. In total, 4,718 students filled out the exit poll.

In the 2016 general election exit polls, party affiliation was split roughly equally between Democrat, Republican, and Independent. In First Vote NC’s election simulation, just over 50 percent of high schools said they would register as either Democrat or Republican, with the other 47 percent choosing either Libertarian, Unaffiliated, or were unsure.

The exit polls also reflect the growing trend towards less religiosity in the United States, although North Carolina high school students seem to be more religious than the average American adult. Roughly 45 percent of high school students responded that they attended a religious service at least once a week with 33 percent saying they attended religious services infrequently and 22 percent saying they never attended a religious service.  A 2017 Pew Research Center study found that 39 percent of adults attended a religious service at least once a week, 33 percent attended infrequently (once or twice a month/a few times a year), and 27 percent seldom or never attended a religious service.

Finally, the exit poll data show the increasing importance of social media in politics. When asked where they get their political news, 47 percent of high school students responded they get their news from social media. Television came in second with 28 percent and newspapers came in last at just 7 percent. In 2015, Pew Research Center found six in ten millennials report getting political news on Facebook in any given week, consistent with First Vote NC’s exit poll results.

Molly Osborne

Molly Osborne is the director of policy for EducationNC and the N.C. Center for Public Policy Research.