Two-thirds of South Carolina residents say the Legislature made the right decision to remove the Confederate battle flag from Statehouse grounds after the racially motivated fatal shooting at Emanuel AME Church, a new poll released Wednesday shows.
But it also shows there’s a divide between black and white over what the flag symbolizes.
The survey, by Winthrop University in Rock Hill, found that nearly all blacks, 93 percent, thought lawmakers made the right decision in voting to move the flag from the Confederate soldiers monument outside the capitol to a Columbia museum, while a little more than half of whites, 54 percent, agreed.
The flag had flown there since 2000. Before that it had been flown atop the Statehouse dome, where it was placed in 1962 as a show of defiance to integration.
When asked if the Confederate battle flag was more a symbol of racial conflict or of Southern pride, 40 percent of those surveyed said it stood for racial conflict, while 47 percent said it stood for Southern pride.
About half of those in the poll who lean Republican said that if it were left to them, they would keep the flag at the monument on the Statehouse grounds.
The results are based on a telephone survey of 963 South Carolina residents conducted Sept. 20-27 by Winthrop’s political science department, which regularly surveys South Carolinians on their political views. The margin of error is +/- 3.2 percent, giving the survey a 95 percent confidence level.
The Legislature’s decision to remove the flag came in the aftermath of the killings of nine church members, including the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, who was also a state senator, at the historic Charleston church on June 17.
Gov. Nikki Haley called for the flag’s removal in the days following the shooting, and lawmakers voted to take it down after the flag’s defenders staged a protracted fight to save it.
While opinions about the flag may have softened somewhat, many South Carolinians still have a lukewarm view of their political leaders, the survey found.
President Barack Obama’s approval rating in South Carolina is 41 percent and remains roughly the same for the general population as it was in March, but still lags behind national approval ratings.
Meanwhile, Congress’ approval rating among Palmetto State residents continues to slide and is at 12 percent, a figure that is a little above the national opinion of Congress.
Haley has a 55 percent approval rating, nearly identical to her overall approval rating in March.
U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, who is running for the Republican presidential nomination, has a 40 percent approval rating.
The state’s junior senator, Republican Tim Scott, has a 53 percent approval rating, although it’s much higher among Republican respondents.
The survey also asked about the legalization of gay marriage in South Carolina, with half of the respondents saying it shouldn’t be recognized as legally valid even though the U.S. Supreme Court ruled this summer that same-sex marriage is a constitutional right. Yet when asked if county clerks or probate judges in the state should be allowed to deny a marriage license to same-sex couples, only 34 percent said yes.
Only a fourth of state residents said the nation is headed in the right direction.
Half of respondents believe the economy as a whole is getting worse. More than half, though, think South Carolina is moving in a positive direction, and 63 percent think the economy is either very good or fairly good.