Poll: Majority sees Confederate flag as Southern pride symbol, not racist

Updated 10:43 AM EDT, Thu July 2, 2015
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Story highlights

About 57% of Americans see the Confederate flag more as a symbol of Southern pride than as a symbol of racism, the poll says

Opinions of the flag are sharply divided by race, and among whites, views are split by education

(CNN) —  

American public opinion on the Confederate flag remains about where it was 15 years ago, with most describing the flag as a symbol of Southern pride more than one of racism, according to a new CNN/ORC poll. And questions about how far to go to remove references to the Confederacy from public life prompt broad racial divides.

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.

READ: The complete CNN/ORC poll here

Efforts to remove the flag or other references to the Confederacy from public places have emerged in the weeks since nine African-American churchgoers were killed by a white man who said he was trying to start a race war in a Charleston church. But the poll shows the public is mixed on how far those efforts should go, and nearly all flag-related questions reveal broad racial divides.

A majority favors removing the Confederate flag from government property that isn’t part of a museum: 55% support that while 43% are opposed. And half support private companies choosing not to sell or manufacture items featuring the Confederate flag: 50% are in favor, 47% opposed.

But most oppose other efforts, including redesigning state flags that feature Confederate emblems or symbols to remove references to the Confederacy (57% oppose that), renaming streets and highways named after Confederate leaders (68% oppose that) and removing tributes to those who fought for the Confederacy from public places (71% oppose that).

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Among African-Americans, however, most favor removing flags from government property (73%), private companies stopping the sale or manufacture of products featuring the flag (65%) and redesigning state flags that feature Confederate references to remove them (59%).

And although there aren’t significant age gaps in the poll overall on questions about the flag, younger African-Americans are more likely to favor some proposals than older ones.

African-Americans age 54 or younger are more likely than older African-Americans to support removing Confederate flags from government property (80% among those age 54 or younger, 63% among those age 55 or older); private companies choosing not to sell or manufacture items featuring the flag (71% among younger African-Americans vs. 54% among older ones); and redesigning state flags to remove references to the Confederacy (64% favor that among African-Americans age 54 or younger compared with 54% among older ones).

Among whites overall, not a single one of the five tested proposals has majority support. But here, too, an education divide emerges, with whites holding college degrees more apt than those without degrees to support removing confederate flags from government property (68% among those whites with degrees, 42% among those without); private companies discontinuing sale or manufacture of items featuring the flag (59% vs. 44%); and redesigning state flags to remove references to the Confederacy (49% vs. 28% among whites without college degrees).

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Most Americans, black and white, do agree that the shootings in Charleston should be considered a hate crime: 92% of African-Americans and 86% of whites say it should be called a hate crime.

But there is less agreement on whether it was an act of terrorism. Overall, 41% say the shootings were terrorism. Most whites say it was not terrorism (61%), while most African-Americans say it was (55%).

The CNN/ORC poll was conducted June 26-28 among a random national sample of 1,017 adults. Additional interviews were conducted with African-Americans and combined with those reached through the initial sample of 1,017 for a total of 303 non-Hispanic black respondents. The margin of sampling error for all adults is +/- 3 percentage points, for results among blacks it is +/- 5.5 percentage points. Results among the 727 non-Hispanic whites reached in the initial sample have a margin of sampling error of +/- 3.5 percentage points.

READ: Confederate flag: Separating the myths from facts