Study: People who back Confederate statues don’t know much about the Confederacy

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tags: Confederacy, Confederate Monuments

In an effort to answer this question of regional pride or racial prejudice with data—rather than the heated rhetoric that typifies the debate—we analyzed two surveys of white Southerners: one of residents of Georgia, the other of residents of South Carolina. Our study is the first to rigorously compare the relative influence of racial prejudice and purportedly non-racist Southern pride on support for the Confederate battle emblem. 

We contend that if some whites support the flag because it represents a legacy in which they feel pride, then we should expect those people also to be knowledgeable about Confederate Civil War history. That is, for pride in Confederate heritage to be meaningful, a person would first have to know something about that history. 

On the other hand, if racial prejudice is the key reason that whites support Confederate symbols, then we should see that racially prejudiced attitudes are more widely held among white supporters of the Confederate flag than among its white opponents. 

First, it's worth pointing out that there is a significant racial gap in support for the Confederate flag: in both South Carolina and Georgia, large majorities of African-Americans oppose the display of the flag on state grounds, whereas support among whites is much higher. Because African Americans are so much more opposed to both the Confederate flag and to racial prejudice, including them in the analyses below would strengthen our findings. Including only white respondents should not be interpreted as a statement that only whites’ views are relevant to this debate; only that we are subjecting our data to a tougher standard of evidence by analyzing the views of the group that is actually likely to support these symbols….

The more questions about Southern Civil War history that a participant answered correctly, the less likely it was that the person favors the Confederate flag. Indeed, people who failed to answer any question correctly (i.e. could not name a single Civil War battle, nor identify William Tecumseh Sherman) were more than twice as likely to favor the Confederate flag than were people who got all of the questions correct. Importantly, we found that this relationship holds even after statistically controlling for a number of factors, such as education, age, and political ideology. In sum, we find little support for the “heritage” argument in our survey of white Georgians.

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