Southerners less supportive of Confederate flag, new poll finds

A Channel 2 investigation shows Confederate symbols have a powerful significance for some groups in Georgia, including the alt-right, but those groups say it's not a racist symbol.

A little more than half of the people living in 11 Southern states want to address the issue of Confederate statues and monuments in public spaces, but they disagree over how that should be done, according to a new Winthrop University Southern Focus poll.

The results of the Winthrop Southern Focus Survey, released Tuesday, also show that 46 percent of all Southerners now hold a “somewhat or very unfavorable” view toward the Confederate battle flag. But the degree to which a Southerner has unfavorable feelings about Confederate iconography has much to do with the individual’s race.

Just under 1,000 Southerners participated in the survey, which captured their feelings on not just the Confederacy and its legacy, but also their views on the nation’s religious identity, the state of the economy, and President Donald Trump. Participants were interviewed between mid-November and early December in Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia.

The survey comes at a time when Southern states and cities, including Atlanta, are deciding what to do with Confederate monuments, statues and street names. In Atlanta, the city changed the name of Confederate Avenue to United Avenue this fall. And the debate has sometimes taken a deadly turn, as with the killing of a counterprotester at a white supremacists rally in Charlottesville, Va., in August 2017. The rally was over the city's plan to remove a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee from a public park near downtown.

Confederate flags were waved at the base of Stone Mountain after a pro-Confederate flag rally in August 2015 at Stone Mountain Park in Stone Mountain, Georgia. 

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With the battle flag question, 58 percent of African-Americans said they view the flag unfavorably, while only 44 percent of the white respondents felt that way. Similarly, a majority of African-Americans saw the battle flag as a divisive image, while a majority of whites saw it as a representation of “Southern pride.”

While some cities such as Richmond, Va., and Atlanta have explored adding contextual markers to Confederate monuments as opposed to removing the monuments altogether, poll respondents had strong opinions about the marker strategy. In most cases, the proposed markers would address slavery and the legacy of legal segregation.

The Peace Monument, which consists of an angel halting the firing of a Confederate soldier’s gun, is located at the 14th Street and Piedmont Avenue entrance of Piedmont Park in Atlanta . 

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When it comes to monuments and statues that honor the Confederate war dead, 42 percent of all respondents, black and white, said they should be left as they are without markers. Thirty-one percent of white respondents, however, said they should be left alone but markers added. Only 16 percent of African-Americans agreed with that approach. African-Americans, however, did support removing monuments and statues to the Confederate war dead, with 55 percent of black respondents saying the statuary should be placed in museums or removed altogether. Only 20 percent of whites agreed with that approach.

When it came to statues that honored segregationists, 63 percent of African-Americans said they should be placed in museums or removed completely from public view. Only 33 percent of whites supported those two approaches.

As for the cause of the Civil War, a debate that is still ongoing in the South, the results were by some measures surprising. When asked whether the war was caused by slavery, concerns over states’ rights or both equally, just under half of all Southerners polled, 49 percent, said it was “both equally.” Thirty percent of African-Americans said slavery was the main reason, and 26 percent of whites said it was solely a question of states’ rights.

As for the nation’s founding principles, 76 percent of white evangelicals said the United States was founded “explicitly” as a “Christian nation.” When broken out by political party, Republicans overwhelmingly supported that statement at 67 percent, whereas just over a third of Democrats agreed with the statement. Similarly, when asked about Trump’s job performance, 80 percent of Republicans said he was doing a good job, while 91 percent of Democrats disapproved of the way he has discharged his duties as president.

But if there was one area where Southern members of both major political parties agreed, it was over the workings of Congress. A solid majority, 70 percent, said Congress wasn’t doing the job its members had been elected to do.