Poll: S.C. blacks, whites agree flag needed to go

A Winthrop University poll of South Carolinians found differing views on racial progress almost a year after the Emanuel AME Church shootings.

When it comes to issues of black and white in South Carolina, most agree it was the right decision to bring the Confederate battle flag down from the Statehouse grounds following the racially motivated Emanuel AME Church shooting last year.

But beyond that, there still remains a level of mistrust and finger-pointing over who is responsible for the climate today, a poll by Winthrop University released Thursday has found.

Take this example:

Some 83 percent of black residents who responded to the survey believe that far too little is being taught about African-American history in South Carolina public schools.

Forty percent of whites, however, say the lessons represent “the right amount.”

Also:

Heading into the presidential election season, black residents believe that racism is the most important problem facing the country, the survey found.

The answer covers their view on all parts of the nation, including far beyond South Carolina’s borders.

The issue of race was mentioned by African-Americans more often than politicians/government, jobs/unemployment and education — in that order, the poll said.

Whites, meanwhile, said they see the economy as the top issue plaguing the country.

Despite those differences, one thing that South Carolina residents from both racial groups equally agree on is that change has to be a joint effort.

“Sixty percent of both blacks and whites said both groups are equally to blame,” the pollsters said of the state of racial relations today. “And 70 percent of all respondents — 69 percent whites and 73 percent blacks — said both groups will need to equally change.”

The poll additionally asked how race relations compare in 2016 to 10, 20, 30 and 40 years ago, with more than half of black and white respondents both saying relations are somewhat better, or much better, than 40 years ago, the survey said.

“However, improvement in race relations may have slowed in the past decade as only one in five blacks said relations are somewhat better or much better, while one in four whites said the same thing,” pollsters said.

Among other specific topic findings:

A majority of South Carolina residents, black and white, continue to think it was the right decision to remove the Confederate battle flag from the Statehouse grounds. The Legislature’s decision came after the nine Emanuel parishioners, including pastor state Sen. Clementa Pinckney, were gunned down during a Bible study.

The Winthrop numbers show 57 percent of whites and 87 percent of blacks favored the decision.

There were some stark differences between how blacks and whites view the Black Lives Matter movement, the poll found. The group has sprung up nationally and in Charleston protesting what they see as racially motivated deaths and treatment at the hands of police.

When asked on a scale from 0 (“cool”) to 100 (“warm”) on how they felt about the Black Lives Matter movement, the average score for African-Americans was 75, while the average score for whites was 38.

“Using the same scale, African-Americans reported feeling 16 degrees ‘cooler’ toward police than white respondents,” the poll found.

When asked to rate race relations in the country, 41 percent of blacks in South Carolina said it is poor.

By comparison, 69 percent of whites rated race relations as either good or only fair.

There was more hope about the Palmetto State where 32 percent of African-American residents rated the state’s race relations as poor, while 76 percent of whites rated it as either good or only fair.

Fewer than half of black residents in the state, 45 percent, said they were discriminated against in the year because of their race or ethnicity.

Only 19 percent of white residents felt the same way.

Yet two out of every three blacks surveyed feel like whites have a better chance of “getting ahead,” the numbers show. A parallel 63 percent of white respondents said they feel like whites and blacks have an equal chance.

President Barack Obama’s approval rating in South Carolina has ticked up a little bit to 45 percent but still lags behind national approval ratings of more than 50 percent.

South Carolina African-Americans stand behind the first black president, giving him a 94 percent job approval rating.

Gov. Nikki Haley’s approval rating was strongly positive among South Carolinians at 59 percent. And while her support among mostly Democratic-leaning black residents is lower, more than half, 51 percent, gave her a positive job approval rating.

“Support among the mostly Democratic African-American population for a Republican governor may seem surprising, but it is likely that esteem for her rose among black South Carolinians because of the strong stance she took to remove the Confederate battle flag from the S.C. Statehouse grounds last year,” said Winthrop political scientist Scott Huffmon.

The survey of the general population poll contains the opinions of 814 state residents. Results which use “all respondents” have a margin of error of approximately +/- 3.4 percent at the 95 percent confidence level. Results for “whites only” come from the general population poll and have a margin of error of approximately +/- 4.1 percent at the 95 percent confidence level. Results for “blacks only” contain African-American respondents from the general population poll, combined with those from blacks targeted from the “oversample” poll. Results for “blacks only” have a margin of error of approximately +/- 4.9 percent at the 95 percent confidence level.

Poll phone calls were made during weekday evenings, all day Saturday, and Sunday afternoon and evening to those with landlines and mobile devices. The poll was in the field April 3 to 24.