Change: 59% of Americans, 58% of southerners now oppose flying the Confederate flag in public places

Am I right that this is the first major poll taken since the beginning of Flagmania last week? I’m curious to see if other pollsters are seeing the same shifts that YouGov is. Because this is a lot of movement in a very short period:


When was the last time any cultural hot-button issue bounced by double digits in a span of three months? Maybe after Obama finally endorsed gay marriage in 2012?

The crosstabs unfortunately don’t break down the numbers by region and race. It’s useful to know what white Americans and black Americans think, and it’s useful to know what southerners think compared to people from other regions. But there’s no way to tell how white southerners differ from black southerners on this subject, apart from a tidbit that YouGov discloses in its summary: White southerners continue to tilt heavily in favor of seeing the flag as a symbol of southern pride rather than racism, 53/20. Among black Americans generally (not just southerners), the split on the same question is … 3/70. That’s some gap.

But the gap also helps explain why it’s not surprising to find southern opinion not much different from opinion in other regions on the various questions YouGov asked. Whether the flag should be displayed in public places, whether it should be displayed on government property, whether it should fly on government buildings, whether you can understand why blacks are upset about its display — southern opinion on balance is right in line with opinion in the northeast, midwest, and west. Majorities in all regions are opposed on the first three and empathetic on the fourth. But that doesn’t tell us much about whether and how much southern white opinion — the people who’d be most inclined to defend the flag’s identity as one of regional pride — might have moved after Nikki Haley et al. came out against the flag’s display. What you’re seeing in the southern numbers here, I think, is a combination of southern whites ambivalent about the flag or mildly opposed to it and southern blacks very heavily against it.

In fact, I’d be curious to know if YouGov saw more movement recently among southern whites or southern blacks on whether they view the flag as a symbol of regional pride or racism. When they polled that this week, they got this:


When they asked a similar question in October 2013, they got … this:


The number of whites who see the flag as racist has moved notably, up 13 points. The number of blacks who view the flag as racist has nearly doubled, though. Is that simply because YouGov gave respondents fewer choices this time — there’s no “both equally” in the new poll — or has black opinion changed that much in the past 20 months? (As you can see, less than two years ago, a plurality of black Americans thought the flag was at least as much an emblem of southern pride as it was an emblem of racist.) And when exactly did it change, if it changed — gradually over these last two years or suddenly in the last 10 days? It may be that the post-Charleston push to tear down the flag has done more to solidify black opinion that the flag is a symbol of racism than it has to solidify white opinion. As it is, thanks in part to the heavy tilt among blacks against the flag now, southerners overall are less likely to see the flag as a symbol of southern pride than northeasterners or midwesterners are.

The best proxy for southern white opinion here might be the GOP results in the partisan split. Even among Republicans, though, opinion is now running against the flag. When asked if it should be displayed in public places, GOPers split 40/42. On government property? 30/53. On government buildings? 28/47. On whether they can understand why blacks are upset? 64/31 say yes. The only enormous partisan divide is on the “southern pride or racism?” question, where Republicans split 68/14 while Democrats split 14/70. (In 2013, that GOP split was 56/4, with another 16 percent saying “both equally.”) Even so, most GOPers seem willing to have the flag removed from government spaces, presumably as a gesture of goodwill to blacks.

One last nugget: Despite opposition to the flag, a majority of Americans and even a plurality of blacks oppose changing the names of schools, streets, and buildings named after Confederate leaders. Republicans split 22/63 against; Democrats split 33/40; and blacks split 32/38. I wonder if that’s mainly a convenience thing — who wants the hassle of learning new names for geographic markers? — or if it’s discomfort with the idea of expansive projects to rewrite history. Hmmm.