Taking Down Confederate Statues Is Still Relatively Unpopular, but Opinion Is Shifting

By a 12-point margin, voters say statues of Confederate leaders should remain standing

About 20 members and supporters of Confederate heritage groups face off with about 100 counter-protesters at the Jefferson Davis Monument on Aug. 19, 2018, in Richmond, Va. Thirty-two percent of voters now support taking down Confederate statues, compared to 26 percent who said the same in 2017. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
June 10, 2020 at 12:01 am ET
  • 44% of voters say statues of Confederate leaders should remain standing, down from 52% in 2017.

  • 32% now say those statues should be removed, compared with 26% in 2017.

  • 53% of Democrats say the statues should come down; 71% of Republicans say they should remain standing.

The demonstrations following the alleged murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer have breathed new life into efforts to dismantle relics of the Confederacy. As government officials at all levels set their sights on statues, memorials and buildings bearing the likenesses or names of Confederate leaders, new polling shows a growing segment of the electorate is coming along with them — although it’s still a minority position.

Asked what should be done with statues of Confederate leaders, roughly a third (32 percent) of voters in a new Morning Consult/Politico poll said they should be taken down, up 6 percentage points from an August 2017 survey. Forty-four percent said the statues should remain standing, down 8 points from the survey conducted nearly three years ago after a confrontation between white supremacists and counter-protesters turned deadly in Charlottesville, Va.

Both surveys were conducted among roughly 1,900 registered voters each and have a 2-point margin of error.

The rise in support for removing the statues was driven by Democrats, a majority of whom now take that position, and independents, who still favor keeping those statues standing by a 10-point margin. Eleven percent of GOP voters say the statues should be removed, virtually unchanged since 2017.

The findings come as federal, state and local officials go to varying lengths in removing Confederate symbols from their public spaces. In Virginia, a judge has delayed an effort to remove a statue of Gen. Robert E. Lee from the state capital and former Confederate capital of Richmond, and in Alabama, the cities of Mobile and Birmingham have taken down monuments to the Confederacy while the state’s flagship university removed plaques that honored students who fought for the South.

The Army also said Monday it would explore renaming 10 of its bases that currently bear the names of Confederate leaders before President Donald Trump on Wednesday poured cold water on the idea, saying on Twitter that his administration “will not even consider” doing.

The new poll also found views shifting on a more controversial totem of the Confederacy: its flag. Forty-four percent of voters surveyed June 6-7 said they saw the Confederate flag as more of a symbol of Southern pride than a symbol of racism, down 8 points from a June 2015 poll

More than a third (36 percent) said they primarily see that flag as a symbol of racism, just 1 point more than the figure recorded five years ago, while 20 percent of voters said they did not know or had no opinion on the subject, up 7 points from 2015.

Independents were most likely to change their mind about the flag: Thirty-eight percent now say they see it as a symbol of Southern pride, down 15 points from the previous survey, while 35 percent say it represents racism, up 3 points over that time span.

There was less movement among partisan Americans. Fifty-eight percent of Democrats said they see it as a symbol of racism, up 6 points from 2015, while 70 percent of Republicans said it was a symbol of Southern pride, unchanged since the previous poll.

Updated to include Trump’s statement on Twitter.

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