Home > Spotlight Analysis > What Does the Confederate Flag Symbolize? Seven in ten Working-Class Whites Say “Southern Pride”
What Does the Confederate Flag Symbolize? Seven in ten Working-Class Whites Say “Southern Pride”
08.14.2017

The recent violence perpetrated by white nationalists in Charlottesville, Virginia, came amid demonstrations protesting the planned removal of a local statue memorializing the Confederacy’s top general, Robert E. Lee. Many of the white nationalists who converged on the city for the demonstration proudly waved the Confederate flag.

Recent PRRI research reveals deep racial and class divides over what the Confederate flag represents. A slim majority (51 percent) of Americans say they see the Confederate flag more as a symbol of southern pride, while more than four in ten (41 percent) Americans say they see it more as a symbol of racism.

Not surprisingly, there are significant racial divisions over what the Confederate flag represents.

  • Notably, eight in ten (80 percent) black Americans say they view the Confederate flag as a symbol of racism.
  • But six in ten (60 percent) white Americans see the Confederate flag as a symbol of southern pride, a view shared by just 15 percent of black Americans. White Americans are sharply divided by social class: More than seven in ten (71 percent) white working-class Americans say the Confederate flag is more a symbol of southern pride than racism, a view shared by less than half (42 percent) of white college-educated Americans.
  • Notably, there are no divisions among whites by gender. Roughly equal numbers of white men (59 percent) and white women (60 percent) say the Confederate flag symbolizes southern pride.

Americans are also strongly divided along party lines in views of the Confederate flag. Nearly eight in ten Republicans (79 percent) and a majority (52 percent) of independents say they see the Confederate flag more as a symbol of southern pride than racism, while less than three in ten (28 percent) Democrats agree. Two-thirds (67 percent) of Democrats view the flag more as a symbol of racism. This includes 64 percent of white Democrats—an 11-point increase from 2015 when 53 percent said the Confederate flag was primarily a symbol of racism.

There are stark religious divides in attitudes about the Confederate flag. Majorities of white evangelical Protestants (72 percent), white mainline Protestants (66 percent), white Catholics (61 percent), and Hispanic Catholics (54 percent) say the Confederate flag is more of a symbol of southern pride. By contrast, 34 percent of religiously unaffiliated Americans and 17 percent of black Protestants say the Confederate flag is more a symbol of southern pride to them. Approximately three-quarters (78 percent) of black Protestants and 58 percent of religiously unaffiliated Americans say it is more a symbol of racism.

For more, read PRRI’s 2016 American Values Survey.

Image by Jason Lander.