Public Opinion On Taking Down Confederate Monuments Hasn't Budged In The Last Three Years

Most Americans disapprove of flying the Confederate flag, a new HuffPost/YouGov poll finds, but just a third favor removing statues and memorials.
An inspection crew from the Virginia Department of General Services takes measurements as they inspect the statue of Confeder
An inspection crew from the Virginia Department of General Services takes measurements as they inspect the statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee on Monument Avenue June 8, 2020, in Richmond, Virginia. Gov. Ralph Northam has ordered the removal of the statue. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

Americans disapprove of flying the Confederate flag, but remain opposed to removing monuments and changing the names of buildings that honor the Confederacy, a new HuffPost/YouGov poll finds. Views on the issue have remained largely unmoved in recent years, a contrast to shifting opinions recently seen on some issues regarding racism and policing.

The anti-racism protests mounting across the U.S. in past weeks have also spurred a new wave of efforts to uproot tributes to the Confederacy. In Virginia, which houses a lion’s share of such monuments, Gov. Ralph Northam (D) has pledged to take down a statute of Robert E. Lee “as soon as possible,” and the mayor of Richmond has introduced a resolution to remove additional statues. The Marine Corps has barred its troops from displaying the Confederate battle flag, saying the symbol “presents a threat to our core values, unit cohesion, security and good order and discipline”; NASCAR also announced it would ban the flag from events. The Army has signaled an openness to renaming bases named for Confederate generals, which President Donald Trump opposes.

“The symbols help sustain racist policies and racist policies help sustain the symbols ... To take down those statues is to make a statement about how a community’s values are changing.” James Grossman, the executive director of the American Historical Association, told HuffPost’s Travis Waldron.  

Americans say, 51% to 34%, that they disapprove of displaying the Confederate flag in public places. 

Just one-third, however, say they favor removing statues and memorials of Confederate leaders, with 49% opposed and the rest unsure. There’s an identical divide on changing the names of streets, schools and public buildings named after Confederate leaders.

A 57% majority of Black Americans, but just 28% of whites, favor removing Confederate statues and memorials. A 52% majority of Black Americans strongly favor such a move, while just 19% of white Americans say the same.

A 54% majority of Democrats favor removal, compared to 17% of Republicans. Republicans are considerably more likely to express strong opposition than Democrats are to register strong support.

Polling on Confederate symbols has proved to be especially sensitive to the way survey questions are framed. In the summer of 2017, support polls placed support for keeping Confederate memorials at anywhere from 62% (when asked as a choice between letting statues “remain as a historical symbol” and removing them “because they are offensive to some people”) to just 26% (when the choice was between keeping monuments on government property or relocating them “to museums or other historic sites where they can be viewed in proper historical context.”) 

But comparing back to a 2017 HuffPost/YouGov poll, which posed the same set of questions, the new survey finds that opinions have not significantly changed in the intervening years. Then, support for taking down Confederate monuments also stood at just 33% in the aftermath of a violent white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, which opposed efforts to remove a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.

Chart showing the results of a new HuffPost/YouGov survey on Confederate symbols.
Chart showing the results of a new HuffPost/YouGov survey on Confederate symbols.

Opinions on the Confederate flag did shift considerably in 2015, following the murder of nine black churchgoers by a white supremacist in Charleston, South Carolina. Prior to the shooting, Americans said by a 10-point margin that the flag was a “symbol of Southern pride” rather than one of racism; three months later, they said by a 6-point margin that it was a symbol of racism. That wave of condemnation, however, appeared to ebb. In the most recent survey, Americans call the flag a racist symbol by only a 3-point margin.

The HuffPost/YouGov poll consisted of 1,000 completed interviews conducted June 4-6 among U.S. adults, using a sample selected from YouGov’s opt-in online panel to match the demographics and other characteristics of the adult U.S. population.

HuffPost has teamed up with YouGov to conduct daily opinion polls. You can learn more about this project and take part in YouGov’s nationally representative opinion polling. More details on the polls’ methodology are available here.

Most surveys report a margin of error that represents some but not all potential survey errors. YouGov’s reports include a model-based margin of error, which rests on a specific set of statistical assumptions about the selected sample rather than the standard methodology for random probability sampling. If these assumptions are wrong, the model-based margin of error may also be inaccurate.