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STATE: Elon Poll finds most N.C. residents want Confederate monuments to remain in public spaces

Despite recent events related to race and the high-profile removal of many Confederate monuments during the past year, most North Carolinians continue to support keeping these monuments on government-owned property, the Elon University Poll has found.

A survey of nearly 1,400 N.C. residents conducted March 30 through April 2 found that 58 percent say Confederate monuments should remain in these public spaces while 42 percent say they should be removed.

Jason Husser, director of the Elon Poll and associate professor of political science, said that the poll repeated many of the questions it asked in November 2019 on this topic to see if recent events, such as the death last year of George Floyd and the removal of monuments from some locations, had caused a major shift in what North Carolinians think.

“We found only a modest shift in North Carolinians’ attitudes,” Husser said. “Those in favor of removing monuments from public spaces increased from 35 percent to 42 percent.”

The survey found evidence of further polarization on the issue, Husser said.

“While about one-third of residents said the killing of George Floyd and other events in 2020 made them more in favor or removing moments, about one-sixth said the last year made them less favorable towards removal,” Husser said.

This is the first of two releases from a survey of 1,395 residents of North Carolina that was conducted March 30 through April 2 using an online opt-in sample marketplace. The survey has a credibility interval of +/- 2.8 percentage points. The credibility interval is an accuracy measure for opt-in online surveys. A fuller explanation of the credibility interval and the survey methodology are available in the full report.

The survey was conducted by the Elon Poll in partnership with The Charlotte Observer, The Durham Herald-Sun and The Raleigh News & Observer.

Removing monuments
The Southern Poverty Law Center reported in February that more Confederate monuments were removed in 2020 across the United States than during the five previous years combined. The report found that 168 Confederate symbols were renamed or removed from public spaces throughout the year, including 94 Confederate monuments. In North Carolina, 24 Confederate symbols were renamed or removed, second only to the 71 in Virginia, according to the report.

While a slightly larger share of the North Carolina population now believes Confederate monuments should be removed, a majority continues to believe they should remain in public spaces, with opinions split along political party lines as well as within various demographic variables.

Among Whites, 70 percent believe the monuments should remain on public land compared to 25 percent of Blacks and 51 percent of members of other racial groups. The survey found that 84 percent of Republicans support the monuments remaining where they are compared to 33 percent of Democrats and 66 percent of members of neither party.

Generally speaking, younger residents and those with a college degree are more likely to say the monuments should be removed, while those who are older and have less than a bachelor’s degree are more likely to say they should remain. Residents between the ages of 18 and 34 are the most likely to say the monuments should be removed, with 53 percent holding that view. Residents 65 years old or older are the most likely to say the monuments should remain, with 69 percent holding that view.

The survey gauged support for other steps that could be taken regarding Confederate monuments, with 64 percent saying adding plaques that offer historical context to the monument was a good idea. Sixty-three percent said moving the monuments and statues to history museums was a good idea, 54 percent said it would be a good idea to move them to Confederate cemeteries or memorials and 37 percent said it would be a good idea to replace them with monuments to honor Southerners who fought to end slavery.

Asked about the impact the removal of Confederate monuments would have on race relations, the largest segment — 39.4 percent — said they believe taking the monuments down will “mostly hurt” race relations. The survey found that 28.4 percent said it would “mostly help” and 32.2 percent — said it “does not make much of a difference.”

The impact of recent events
Multiple events in recent years have intensified the public discussion about the role race plays in the United States, including the death of George Floyd in 2020 at the hands of a police officer. The Elon Poll sought to gauge how these events, which led to extensive and ongoing protests, may have impacted opinions about the divisive issue of Confederate monuments, asking if these events made N.C. residents more in favor or less in favor of removing the monuments.

More than half of respondents — 52 percent — said that Floyd’s death and other events in 2020 made no difference in their opinions on the subject. Thirty-two percent say that they are more in favor of removing the monuments because of last year’s events and 17 percent say they are less in favor.

Blacks, Democrats, younger residents, urban residents and those with a college education were more likely to say that last year’s events made them more in favor of removal. Whites, Republicans, residents older than 65, rural residents and those with less than a bachelor’s degree were the least likely to say they were more in favor.

Legacy of slavery, the Civil War
Nearly two out of three residents say that the legacy of slavery affects the position of Blacks in American society “a fair amount” or “a great deal,” while 21 percent said that legacy affects Blacks “not much” and another 13 percent say “not at all.”

Those numbers have changed little since the 2019, which found 62 percent of residents responded “a fair amount” or “a great deal.” However, a larger share now believes the legacy of slavery impacts Blacks in the country “a great deal.” This most recent survey saw 36 percent responding “a great deal” that way compared to 28.5 percent in 2019.

The survey also found N.C. residents more evenly split on the cause of the Civil War, with 49 percent saying the war was mainly about slavery and 51 percent saying the war was mainly about states’ rights.