YouGov asked more than 34,000 Americans to say whether the Confederate flag most represents racism or heritage (additionally, panelists were allowed to select “Don’t know” or “neither of these” as responses). The poll was conducted after Nikki Haley, the former governor of South Carolina, said that the Confederate flag meant “service, sacrifice and heritage” in her state until a white supremacist “hijacked” its meaning and killed nine Black Americans. Following that shooting, the Confederate flag was permanently removed from South Carolina’s statehouse grounds.
For a plurality of Americans, the Confederate flag represents racism (41%). But for about one-third of Americans (34%) — particularly adults over 65, those living in rural communities, or non-college-educated white Americans — the flag symbolizes heritage.
The idea of the Confederate flag primarily representing heritage is divisive even among the former Confederate states of America, according to state-level data collected by YouGov. Though a couple of former Confederate states believe the flag is more representative of heritage than racism, that is not the case for all.
Virginia, in particular, is more likely than other former Confederate states to consider the flag a sign of racism (46%) over heritage (33%). In recent years, the state has argued over whether to keep monuments of Confederate military leaders like Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson on display, leading to well-covered legal debates on the implication of the Confederate flag. Charlottesville Circuit Court Judge Richard Moore explained the case by writing: “While some people obviously see Lee and Jackson as symbols of white supremacy, others see them as brilliant military tacticians or complex leaders in a difficult time.”
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A couple quick finds:
- Of the former Confederate states, only Arkansas and Louisiana have a pro-heritage majority.
- If you are over 55-years-old you are more likely to see the flag as a symbol of heritage.
- Almost half of “not college-educated” white people see the flag as a symbol of heritage.
- If you live in a rural area you are more likely to see the flag as a symbol of heritage.
- New England is the strongest “flag as racist” region of the country. The area encompassing Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama and Mississippi is the strongest “flag as heritage” region.