Originally created 12/21/96

Poll finds voters edging toward Beasley's flag plan



COLUMBIA - A new poll has found growing support for Gov. David Beasley's call to move the Confederate battle flag off the Statehouse dome, a month after he argued on live television that doing so would help heal racial divisions.

The poll released Friday shows an increase in support from a March 1994 poll, when a majority wanted to keep the flag flying.

Now, 48 percent favor moving the flag and 41 percent oppose it, only a slight statistical plurality. Two years ago, 35 percent wanted to move the banner, while 55 percent wanted to keep it above the Statehouse.

The Mason-Dixon poll of 808 voters found whites and blacks widely split on their views, though more of both races now see the flag as a racist symbol.

The telephone poll, conducted Monday through Wednesday for several news media, has a margin of error of 3.5 percentage points.

Blacks have argued for years that the flag is an offensive reminder of slavery; defenders say it only pays homage to Southern history and heritage.

Mr. Beasley went on statewide television Nov. 19 to say that moving the flag to a Confederate monument on Statehouse grounds would help race relations.

The Republican governor faces fierce opposition from flag defenders and fellow Republicans, as well as a difficult fight in the Legislature, where any change must be approved.

Other poll findings show more support for moving the flag than in the past, though not a reversal from earlier divisions.

  • Fifty-five percent of voters say the flag represents heritage, while 33 percent say it symbolizes racism. In the earlier poll, 65 percent chose heritage and 23 percent, racism.
  • Roughly half - 52 percent - of all voters polled approved of Mr. Beasley's actions on the flag, while 43 percent disapproved.
  • Also, 94 percent of black voters approved of the governor's efforts, while 37 percent of white voters did.