What do Americans think about Confederate statues?

Polls over the past week revealed a lot about people’s opinions on race, white supremacy, and other issues related to the chaos that engulfed Charlottesville, Virginia two weeks ago. Since then, the debate about the meaning of monuments to Confederate soldiers has reemerged. Calls for the removal of Confederate monuments have grown louder, and several cities are already taking steps to do so.

Individual polls about Confederate statues differ, probably due to differences in methodology, wording, and normal margins of error. But five of the seven polls find sharp differences between the opinions of whites and blacks on statue removal: white Americans want statues to remain in place, while black Americans want them removed.

The two polls with noticeably different findings are the NBC/NPR NewsHour/Marist poll (the first of these polls to come out since the Charlottesville violence) and Public Policy Polling. The NBC/NPR NewsHour/Marist poll drew a lot of attention, with many people surprised by the percentage of black people opposed to removing Confederate statues. The poll found 44% opposition and 40% support for statue removal among blacks. In contrast, PPP found high support for statue removal among both races, with 57% of whites supporting and 31% opposed.

Closer examination of these polls suggests that the wording of the questions and answers might explain the anomalous results. These two polls are the only ones of the bunch to allude to history or imply that the historical statues are historically valuable. The Marist poll refers to history in its “keep” option:

Do you think statues honoring leaders of the Confederacy should:

  • Be removed because they are offensive to some people
  • Remain as a historical symbol
  • Unsure

The PPP poll’s question emphasizes relocation and preservation of history on the removal side:

Would you support or oppose relocating monuments honoring the Confederacy from government property and moving them to museums or other historic sites where they can be viewed in proper historical context?

  • Support
  • Oppose
  • Not Sure

That these allusions to the historical value of Confederate statues might drive the results so far in either direction suggests that people believe these statues have historical value and should be preserved. White people in particular seem likely to support statue removal if the statues go to a museum or other historic site.

When asked about what they believe Confederate statues represent (only two polls are specific on this topic), there is once again a stark racial divide. Blacks see the statues as symbols of racism, while whites cite heritage and southern pride.

Note: I added the HuffPost/YouGov survey on August 24th. I added a poll by Valient Market Research on August 25th. I’m not familiar with Valient, but they seem legitimate. Feel free to send me any other polls I missed and I might incorporate them.