Poll: Most West Virginians oppose ‘Culture War’ bills, many young adults consider leaving

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CHARLESTON, W.Va. – A recent scientific poll indicates young West Virginians are unhappy with the Legislature’s focus on divisive social issues to the point that a majority would at least consider leaving the state if the restrictive bills are passed and the trend continues.

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“This validates what we and others have been saying for two years: that the legislature’s focus on such divisive topics as telling teachers how to teach about racial discrimination are damaging the ability of our already struggling state to retain or recruit population or a viable work force,” said John A. Bolt, co-president of West Virginia Coalition for Truth in History.

“Further, not only do most West Virginians oppose those type of initiatives, but they also want lawmakers to stay out of their private lives,” Bolt said.

John Bolt

A whopping 91 percent of respondents agreed that “government should focus on lifting people up and improving opportunities for everyone and not on telling people what they can and cannot do in their own lives.” Only 7 percent disagreed.

Among the poll’s findings:

  • 70 percent of voters between the ages of 18 and 34 oppose banning teaching critical race theory in schools. This has been a focus of many in the legislature since the 2022 session, despite no credible evidence it is being taught in K-12. Overall, 54 percent of voters opposed such a ban.
  • 50 percent of that age group say they could see themselves leaving West Virginia within five years, with only 25 percent saying they definitely would not consider it.
  • The top two reasons for leaving? Better jobs elsewhere, 84 percent; concern about the direction of the state’s politics, 60 percent.
  • 52 percent of voters aged 18-34 said they would be much or somewhat more motivated to leave if high school teachers were prohibited from teaching about past and current racism in the United States.

Almost three-quarters (71 percent) of respondents identify as conservative or moderate; 39 percent identify as Republican; 23 percent, Democrat; 39 percent, independent or leaning to the GOP or Democrats.

During the 2022 legislative session several bills sought to curtail what multiple legislators claimed was being taught and was effectively resulting in some students feeling guilty or discomfort about their race.

Even though a watered down bill eventually was approved by the Legislature, the final vote came just seconds after the constitutionally mandated midnight adjournment on the session’s 60th day so it failed to pass.

Similar bills were reintroduced this session and are now under consideration in the House of Delegates.

In addition to bills attacking CRT, legislators have also gone after diversity training, transgender rights and other culture wars issues.

More than three-fourths of respondents, 76 percent, said they are concerned to varying degrees that legislators are spending too much time and attention on divisive social issues like abortion, school prayer, critical race theory, gay marriage, and the like.

The poll of 1,941 voters, with an oversampling of young voters, was conducted last fall by Change Research using online polling through social media recruitment and text to web techniques, which are also used by the Pew Research Center as research suggests people may be more truthful to a survey on a screen than with a live call.  

The poll, which has a margin of error of 2.6 percent, was commissioned by West Virginia Strong, a not-for-profit organization that supports efforts to  fight political extremism. It was released Wednesday by the West Virginia Coalition for Truth in History, a statewide group of mostly individuals who support teaching all aspects of history to ensure critical thinking skills for the future. The Coalition formed in January 2022 in a grassroots movement that brought together individuals as well as social justice advocates concerned about the anti-CRT bills being proposed.