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Palette Conducts Survey of High School Students’ Political Views

Some Caveats Before We Get to the Juicy Results

Matthew Minsk

Throughout their time in high school, the opportunity often arises for AJA students to engage in politics. Aside from political advocacy clubs, certain assignments and classes involve hot-button issues, such as the “State of the Union” paper and speech in AP English Language, Cause Fair in 11th-grade English, and the AP US Government and Politics course. Ahead of a presidential election in November, political discourse seems to be one of the frequent topics of discussion in the High School. In light of this, Palette sent out a survey to the High School student body to gauge the students’ political views and opinions.

When Palette conducted a similar survey last year, the “no opinion” or “I don’t know” answer choices amounted to 40% of the total responses for nearly half of the questions; on this year’s survey, the “I don’t know enough to answer this question” responses remained steadily between 7% and 30% (with a few exceptions on either side of that range). While it’s possible that the AJA student body knows more about politics now than last year (perhaps due to the presidential election), it is worth noting an important caveat for the survey data this year, through which one must view the entirety of the data: response bias.

“It is crucial to understand the nature of the small sample size, which dictates that these 39 students likely differ in unknowable ways from the other 42.”

Because of the imperative to maintain social distancing and avoid touching common surfaces (for example, a pen and paper), Palette had to rely on an emailed Google Form to collect responses — a more challenging method than simply approaching students in the hallway. 39 students — or 48% of the study body — responded to the survey. However, because a self-selecting group of students responded voluntarily, it seems likely that those who did fill out the survey are not representative of the entire High School student body. Logically, those who responded are likely more politically knowledgeable and/or invested in politics than those who opted not to. It is impossible to know whether the self-selecting group of respondents is more liberal or conservative compared to those who did not did not participate. For all we know, the sample could be representative, although we cannot assert this with any degree of confidence. We can only analyze the data that we have — and we certainly will — but it is crucial to understand the nature of the small sample size, which dictates that these 39 students likely differ in unknowable ways from the other 42.

Related to the issue of response rate, the upperclassmen responded to the survey at a significantly higher rate (58%) than the lowerclassmen (40%). This could also lead to bias in the results since, as detailed in another article here, there are fairly large splits in ideology and opinions between different grade groupings. On the other hand, boys and girls responded at roughly equal rates, both overall and within the grade levels: By way of example, 9th and 10th grade girls responded at about the same level as 9th and 10th grade boys. 

Response rates, by grade and gender. Upperclassmen responded at greater rates than lowerclassmen, but there was no significant differences between boys and girls.

The groups of respondents displayed a high level of political literacy — on many counts, far higher than expected and one indicator that the sample does not accurately represent the remainder of the student body. All of those who filled out the survey correctly identified President Donald Trump as a Republican, while 95% knew Republican Brian Kemp is the current Governor of Georgia. 74% and 66% of respondents accurately chose which party controlled the Senate and House of Representatives, respectively, while only 8% and 5% respondents misattributed the respective chambers; the remainder were unsure. A slim majority (54%) knew that Georgia will hold two senatorial races in 2020, while 15% thought there will be only one seat up for grabs, and 30% didn’t know enough to answer. Furthermore, 72% of AJA students could pick Roe v. Wade out of a set of four landmark court cases as addressing abortion, and 72% of students also correctly identified that former Vice President Joe Biden currently leads national and state polls. All of these numbers support a high level of basic political knowledge among the survey respondents.

The Palette political survey was conducted between Monday, October 12, and Friday, October 16. The survey has a 90% confidence interval of +/- 10% given the population size of 81 students and 39 respondents, which means that we can expect our findings, plus or minus 10% on either side, will capture the true percentage of students who support a given position 90% of the time. It is worth bearing in mind that with such a small population, an even smaller sample, and concern about response bias tilting the results, even a larger gap than 10% in either direction should be taken with a grain of salt, to a certain extent.

To find the complete results in semi-raw data format, click here. A fuller write-up, including presidential head-to-head numbers, party affiliation, and specific opinions on certain policies and politicians can be found here. After reading that article, we encourage you to continue with our deeper dive into specific trends we noticed among segments of the student body, here, here, and here

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