COLUMBIA, S.C. — South Carolina’s decision to remove the Confederate flag from its Statehouse grounds meets with the approval of 57 percent of Americans, but 34 percent believe it was the wrong move, a new survey revealed.
The report by the nonprofit Pew Research Center released Wednesday also found how deeply the issue touched the public and how complex their thoughts remain about it.
Eighty-nine percent of the adults surveyed knew of the debate and 64 percent of those said they had heard a lot about it, the report said.
The debate over the flag was reignited when a white man accused of fatally shooting nine black people at a church appeared in photos holding the banner. Dylann Roof is charged in the killing of the parishioners at a Bible study at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston on June 17.
The telephone poll of 2,002 people was conducted the week after the July 10 ceremony when an honor guard lowered the battle flag and it was delivered to a museum in Columbia. It cited a margin of error of plus or minus 2.5 percentage points.
The study found 76 percent of blacks, 56 percent of whites and 52 percent of Hispanics supported the removal.
However, the survey discovered some deep partisan divides: Among Republicans, 43 percent said it was the right decision and 49 percent said it wasn’t. Among independents, 53 percent supported the decision while 37 percent remain opposed. However, 74 percent of Democrats favored the move.
“Clearly, race, party and ideology matter on how people think about this issue,” said Jocelyn Kiley, the center’s associate director of research.
When asked an open-ended question about why they held a certain belief about the decision, some 36 percent of those who backed the decision said they associated the flag with racism, hatred or slavery. Some 20 percent said it is offensive or divisive.
Among those who didn’t agree with the removal, some 54 percent cited the flag’s historical significance. Some 27 percent said it was a misunderstood symbol, including 20 percent who said it is wrongly cast as a symbol of hatred, racism or slavery.
“It’s striking to hear their reasons,” Kiley said, noting that the survey findings seemed to follow the lines of the public debate.
Kiley noted that the survey found reactions to images of the battle flag itself were similar to a survey the center conducted in 2011 as the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War approached.
That was the first time the center had delved into the issue, she said.
The 2011 poll found that 58 percent had no particular personal reaction to the Confederate flag. And among those who did, more than three times as many said they had a negative reaction as opposed to a positive one — 30 percent to 9 percent.
In the latest poll, a similar number — 56 percent — said they had no particular reaction, positive or negative, to a display of the Confederate flag. As was the case in 2011, negative reactions to the flag outnumbered positive with 28 percent to 13 percent.
Kiley said she found interesting a few comments among those in the most recent survey that while they may not have a personal reaction to the flag one way or another, it might be the time to move on.
“This shows that despite people’s personal reactions one way or another, there is a reflective cast” among those surveyed, she said.