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Americans Divided on Southern States Flying Confederate Flag

Americans Divided on Southern States Flying Confederate Flag

Majority of public opposes boycott, however


PRINCETON, NJ -- A prominent issue during the South Carolina primary last February revolved around the presidential candidates' views about South Carolina's practice of flying the Confederate flag over the Statehouse. Late last month, Senator John McCain apologized for not having spoken out against the practice during the primary itself, admitting that at the time he refrained from expressing what he truly felt so that he would not alienate primary voters in the state. The South Carolina House of Representatives begins today to debate a bill, already passed by that state's Senate, which would require the flag to be taken down from the South Carolina Statehouse.

Where does the public stand on this issue? Overall, Americans are divided on whether it's all right or not for Southern states to fly the flag -- 46% approve, while 44% want the practice stopped. This represents a slight erosion in support for the flag being flown compared to eight years ago. In 1992, 55% approved, while 40% disapproved.

Despite McCain's recent apology, Republicans across the country continue to say that they support flying the flag, by a 55% to 32% margin. Democrats, on the other hand, are opposed by a 57% to 38% margin, while independents are more like Republicans, approving of the practice by 47% to 42%. Additionally, Southerners are not strongly different from the other regions of the country in terms of their support for a state's flying the Confederate flag above its state capitol building.

The poll shows that only 11% of all Americans say they have followed the Confederate flag issue "very" closely, while another 37% say they have followed it "somewhat" closely. Fifty-two percent say they have not been following it closely. Those paying the most attention to the issue are a little more opposed to Southern states' flying the flag than are others -- the most attentive by 52% to 41%, and the somewhat attentive by 49% to 44%. People who say they have followed the issue only minimally divide evenly between support and opposition, while those who say they have not followed the issue at all support flying the flag by 53% to 32%.

Apart from their feelings about flying the Confederate flag, only 28% of Americans say that the Confederate flag is a symbol of racism, while 59% of Americans say the flag is more a symbol of Southern pride. This represents a slight decrease in the "Southern pride" position since 1992, when 69% said that this was what the flag represented, as opposed to racism. This pattern is the same for those who have followed the issue closely as it is for Americans overall. Although Republicans are much more likely than Democrats to say the flag is a symbol of Southern pride (by 74% to 16%), even Democrats express this view by a plurality of 48% to 40%.

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People began a boycott of South Carolina in January of this year, and almost 100 meetings and conventions have been moved from the state as a result. The National Collegiate Athletic Association has also recently said that it may consider canceling the 2002 men's college basketball regional tournament in Greenville if the flag is not removed.

Americans are firmly opposed to such boycotts, however, by a 65% to 27% margin. Even Democrats oppose the idea of boycotts of South Carolina, by 54% to 39%, while Republicans oppose it by a larger margin, 78% to 16%.

Survey Methods
The results reported here are based on telephone interviews with a randomly selected national sample of 1,031 adults, 18 years and older, conducted May 5-7, 2000. For results based on this sample, one can say with 95 percent confidence that the maximum error attributable to sampling and other random effects is plus or minus 3 percentage points. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

As you may know, several Southern states fly some form of the Confederate flag on top of their state capitol buildings. Do you think it's all right for these states to fly the Confederate flag, or do you think they should stop this practice?



All right to fly

Stop this practice

No opinion


2000 May 5-7





1992 Dec 4-6




Do you, yourself, see the Confederate flag more as a symbol of Southern pride, or more as a symbol of racism?



Southern pride



NEITHER (vol.)

No opinion


2000 May 5-7







1992 Dec 4-6






As you may know, the use of the Confederate flag in South Carolina has been in the news recently. How closely have you been following the news on this issue -- very closely, somewhat closely, not too closely, or not at all closely?



Very closely

Somewhat closely

Not too closely

Not at all closely



2000 May 5-7






As you may know, some groups are saying that they will boycott South Carolina -- by not traveling or scheduling sporting events or conferences there -- until South Carolina removes the Confederate flag from all public places. Do you support or oppose this boycott of South Carolina?





No opinion


2000 May 5-7




* Less than 0.5%
(vol.) Volunteered response

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