CNN poll shows majority views Rebel flag as symbol of Southern heritage

If you wonder why most Georgia leaders remain reluctant to revisit controversial symbols of the state's Confederate legacy, this CNN poll sheds some light.

The poll found that American public opinion on the Confederate flag remains virtually unchanged from 15 years ago, with most respondents describing the Rebel emblem as a symbol of pride and heritage.

From the CNN report:

The poll shows that 57% of Americans see the flag more as a symbol of Southern pride than as a symbol of racism, about the same as in 2000 when 59% said they viewed it as a symbol of pride. Opinions of the flag are sharply divided by race, and among whites, views are split by education.

Among African-Americans, 72% see the Confederate flag as a symbol of racism, just 25% of whites agree. In the South, the racial divide is even broader. While 75% of Southern whites describe the flag as a symbol of pride and 18% call it a symbol of racism, those figures are almost exactly reversed among Southern African-Americans, with just 11% seeing it as a sign of pride and 75% viewing it as a symbol of racism.

Among whites, there's a sharp divide by education, and those with more formal education are less apt to see the flag as a symbol of pride. Among whites with a college degree, 51% say it's a symbol of pride, 41% one of racism. Among those whites who do not have a college degree, 73% say it's a sign of Southern pride, 18% racism.

You can read the entire poll results here. It comes on the heels of a USA Today poll that found no national consensus about whether the flag is a racist symbol, with a divide of 42-42 on that question.

They help explain the GOP's wariness over the debate, despite growing calls from Democrats and other critics for a new discussion over Old South iconography.

The critics want the state to quit celebrating Confederate Memorial Day and Confederate Heritage Month, and the state has already stopped selling license plates with the Rebel battle emblem after Gov. Nathan Deal announced a “redesign” of the tags.

But Deal suggested in an interview that he has little appetite for more sweeping changes.

"We cannot deny our heritage," he said.

House Speaker David Ralston and Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle's offices both have declined comment on the debate.

You can read more about Georgia’s struggle with its Confederate legacy here. 


On that note, state Sen. Tommie Williams, a Lyons Republican, was asked yesterday to chime in on the debate over the images, which was revived after the murders of nine black worshippers at a Charleston church by a white man who told police he wanted to start a race war.

“I think that’s ridiculous. These are historical issues that have relevance to people. I had ancestors that fought in the War Between the States and the Revolutionary War. These are things that need to be remembered. The war was not only about slavery. I think it’s going too far. And now I’m thinking other states are going through some of the same difficulties we went through.”

He's referring to the divisive votes in 2001 and 2003 that shrunk and ultimately removed the Rebel emblem from Georgia's flag. Williams, in 2001, was among those who cast a "no vote" for the flag change.

“I’m glad that we’re done with it in Georgia," he said. "If I had that vote to do over, I'd vote to change it. It's the only vote I really regret."

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About the Author

Greg Bluestein
Greg Bluestein
Greg Bluestein is a political reporter who covers the governor's office and state politics for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.