For the first time on record, support for the current Mississippi state flag polls less than a majority. But those who want to keep this controversial banner still outnumber advocates of a new state flag. This recent polling shows a 16% change in public opinion over the last sixteen years.
Chism Strategies’ survey of voters in mid-September found that 49% of respondents favored the current flag while 41% wanted to retire it, with 10% undecided. African Americans post strong support for a new flag but 62% of white voters opposed the change. A slight majority of whites under age 55 agree that we need a new state flag.
Gradual Shift in Public Opinion
Mississippians went to the polls in 2001 in a nonbinding referendum and rejected a new state flag with 64% of voters saying No.
Fast forward to the spring of 2014 when the Republican leadership in the state legislature discussed the possibility of legislation on the state flag. Chism Strategies polled voters then, asking if there was agreement on one of the key talking points about the flag at the time: the economic objections to the Confederate emblem--that the flag limit business investment from out of state and hurts tourism. A plurality of voters rejected this argument (40% No to 38% Yes).
We learned in follow up questions that most voters felt the 2001 referendum had settled the issue (55% to 27% who favored another vote.) In our final question on the subject, we saw some softening of opinion when we asked what voters thought about the legislature changing the state flag. Voters were split evenly 41/41 among those that said, “it was not a big deal” and those who said that any such legislative action should be reversed by a vote of the people.
The Political Realities
Mississippi’s junior US Senator, the Speaker of the State House of Representatives and other prominent state Republicans agree that we should retire the current state flag. This sentiment is echoed by the state’s organization of Southern Baptists, the largest religious denomination in Mississippi among white voters, along with the Methodists, Episcopalians and Catholic Church leadership here. The state’s business leaders concur that the Mississippi state flag is a drag in competition with other states for new industry. Still, most white voters are unmoved.
There is no groundswell for a new state flag at this time. Moreover, in this bitter political environment with an energized anti-establishment movement, promoting a referendum on a new state flag would be unwise. Opponents of a new state flag feel much more strongly than do new flag advocates. Moreover, this flag debate would be probably get high-jacked by the Far Right as a rallying cry in the culture wars and the final vote would not reflect the merits of a new flag.
About the Survey
The survey was conducted in mid-September. The sample size was 500 with a margin of error of 4.4%. We weighted results to reflect 2015 general election turnout by age, race, gender and partisanship.