As political Washington wrestles with police reform in the wake of the national conversation over race occasioned by the death of George Floyd last month, it’s clear that weeks of protests across the country have changed how the public views a hugely hot-button issue: Whether statues honoring Confederate leaders should be removed.
A majority of Americans – 52% – in a new Quinnipiac University poll released this week said they support “Removing Confederate statues from public spaces around the country.” About 4 in 10 oppose such a move.
That’s a significant reversal from just three years ago when Quinnipiac asked the same question. At that point, 39% supported the removal of Conferderate statues while 50% opposed it.
Looking inside the new Quinnipiac numbers, it’s clear that where you live, how old you are and the color of your skin are powerful determinants in how you land on the Confederate statue question.
Large majorities of black people (84%) and those aged 18-34 (67%) favor the removal of these statues. Most women (56%) and Hispanic people (58%) also back removal. Less than half of white people (44%) and those living in the south (45%) back the statues’ removal. (There is majority support for removing the statues in the other three main regions of the country.)
Those new poll numbers land smack dab in the middle of an ongoing debate – in the nation’s capitol and in states around the country – about whether these statues need to be taken down. Are they painful reminders of a time in American history that deserve not to be commemorated? Or are calls for their removal simply a reflection of the politically correct police trying to analyze everything through its ultra-current lens?
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California took forceful action on the issue Thursday, announcing her plan to have four portraits of speakers of the House who served in the Confederacy removed from the Capitol on Friday, which is Juneteenth, a day to celebrate the end of slavery.
“There is no room in the hallowed halls of Congress or in any place of honor for memorializing men who embody the violent bigotry and grotesque racism of the Confederacy,” Pelosi wrote in the letter to the House clerk requesting the portraits’ removals.
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) announced earlier this month that he had ordered the removal of a statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee from state property in the state capital of Richmond, but a state judge has temporarily blocked the removal as a court case challenging the removal is resolved. Northam, as well as state Attorney General Mark Herring (D), have said they will go to the Supreme Court with the case if necessary. (The attempted removal of another Lee statue – this one in Charlottesville, Virginia – led to the white supremacist violence there in 2017.)
In the wake of Floyd’s death, a number of Confederate statues have been removed – often forcibly. In Richmond earlier this month, a statue of Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy, was ripped down by protesters. “Jefferson Davis was a racist & traitor who fled our city as his troops carried out orders to burn it to the ground,” tweeted Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney, who is black. “He never deserved to be up on that pedestal. July 1, we will begin the process the state requires to remove these monuments to the Old Richmond of a Lost Cause.”
President Donald Trump has made his views on the subject quite clear. In the wake of the white supremacist violence in Charlottesville, Trump tweeted:
“Sad to see the history and culture of our great country being ripped apart with the removal of our beautiful statues and monuments. You can’t change history, but you can learn from it. Robert E Lee, Stonewall Jackson - who’s next, Washington, Jefferson?”
Of late, Trump has come out in opposition to calls to rename military bases that are named after Confederate military leaders. Tweeted Trump recently:
“These Monumental and very Powerful Bases have become part of a Great American Heritage, and a history of Winning, Victory, and Freedom. The United States of America trained and deployed our HEROES on these Hallowed Grounds, and won two World Wars. Therefore, my Administration will not even consider the renaming of these Magnificent and Fabled Military Installations. Our history as the Greatest Nation in the World will not be tampered with. Respect our Military!”
In an interview with The Wall Street Journal that was published Thursday, Trump doubled down on his stance, arguing that removing Confederate names of bases would “bring people apart.”
That approach plays well with Trump’s base. Almost 9 in 10 Republicans (86%) oppose the removal of names from military bases in the Quinnipiac poll while a similar number (80%) oppose the removal of statues of Confederate leaders. Trump’s base, of course, isn’t his problem in the coming election. They are already with him, and it’s virtually impossible to see them leaving him for any reason between now and November.
Trump’s bigger problem is women and political independents, both of whom have moved away from him since the 2016 election. And, judging from the new Quinnipiac poll, those groups are on the other side of Trump on this issue, which may not be a place, politically speaking, he can afford to be.