Poll: Vermonters are mixed on whether youth should stay here, but Republicans are more sure
The University of Vermont’s business school is bustling on a recent weekday as students file into the building — including senior Franklin Cody, who’s studying business and economics.
Though he’s a seventh-generation Vermonter, it wasn’t a given Cody would stay here for college.
“Because if you're a highly intelligent, enterprising individual, there's always this stigma that you can become so much more if you leave the rural, maybe even backward, hometown where you grew up, and are able to go to New York, or Boston or any other metropolitan area," he said.
It’s a common feeling. A majority of college-bound seniors across Vermont wanted to attend a school out of state last year, according to a survey from the Vermont Student Assistance Corporation.
Results from the latest VPR-Vermont PBS poll on a related question — whether an 18-year-old should stay in Vermont to build a life and career — were a bit muddier. Slightly more Vermonters recommended leaving over staying.
But for Republicans, the choice was much clearer: go.
"That doesn't come as a surprise," Cody said.
He leads UVM’s College Republicans chapter. The 22-year-old says he has sometimes felt like he’s had to walk on eggshells around other students because of his politics.
“There were times when I first started out in a leadership capacity with the college Republicans that I wouldn't tell my friends. Because I had this fear of being misunderstood by them on what I stood for," Cody said.
Sure. Vermont, with its Republican governor — who Cody works for — is a bit more complicated, politically, than many outsiders imagine. But Democrats and Progressives still nearly hold super majorities in both chambers of the Legislature.
Cody says Vermont’s strong liberal presence can alienate people across the aisle.
“I think people can feel, you know, not exactly at home with making a lot of their opinions felt — definitely more so for the conservatives," he said.
University of Vermont assistant professor Cheryl Morse says that phenomenon can strongly impact someone’s perception of their surroundings.
“I think it's tremendously influential. If one can't see their values represented in their hometown or amongst their neighbors, it creates a sense of isolation," she said.
Morse researches social geography, meaning the relationship between space and human experience. She’s wondered why new residents have moved here in the last two years, and found that for many, Vermont is more politically appealing than the red states they used to occupy.
On the flip side:
“In my research that I conducted with people who grew up in Vermont, we saw that people who didn't feel comfortable with the blue leaning of our state were more likely to say they would like to leave the state," Morse said.
But, she cautions against categorizing people in simple groups.
“My experience says you can never do that — that there's always a complex set of factors that are driving someone's worldview," Morse said.
Middlebury College political scientist Bert Johnson says the political split on the response to this particular poll question could be partially explained by geography, and the economic opportunity in a particular community.
"If one can't see their values represented in their hometown or amongst their neighbors, it creates a sense of isolation."
“Republicans tend to be located in more rural and small town areas — this is true nationally and true in Vermont," he said. "And so if the state of the economy is worse in those areas than it is in, say, Chittenden County, then that's going to be picked up in responses to a question like this.”
Northeastern and central Vermonters were more likely to recommend an 18-year-old build their life and career outside of the state. Those regions include many of Vermont’s red districts. Johnson says they also lack economic vitality compared to other parts of the state, which could create a cloudier outlook for the people who live there.
That checks out for Delaney Courcelle, a recent UVM business administration graduate who also led the school’s College Republicans chapter.
She says her hometown of Rutland, which has a strong conservative presence, has struggled to maintain a vibrant economy in recent years.
“In terms of like, general commerce and job opportunities, it's, you know — it's not great right now," Courcelle said.
She's quick to share her love of Vermont, particularly its close-knit communities and beautiful scenery. But Courcelle says there was a feeling growing up that young people need to abandon their roots to succeed.
“I've heard from some conservative commentators that it's kind of a detrimental thing for people to just stay in a dying town just because they're from that town," she said.
Although Franklin Cody, the current UVM College Republicans president, felt something similar coming out of high school, he says he’s happy with his decision to attend UVM. Apart from being the frugal choice, he says he stuck around to remain close to his family, and because he feels connected to other people who were born here.
“There's a lot that is going for Vermont, and not everyone can see that. But I think the people who stay definitely drive the conversation on what Vermont values are. And I'm really happy to be able to be the local," Cody said.
Despite his qualms with the cost of living and high taxes in Vermont, Cody says he can’t imagine building a life anywhere else.
Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message or email producer Kevin Trevellyan at firstname.lastname@example.org.
From Jan. 3 to Jan. 9, the VPR-Vermont PBS 2022 Poll asked hundreds of Vermonters about their opinions on climate change, broadband, dairy and more. Explore part two of results here. The first part of the results were released in January.