JACKSON – Changing Mississippi’s controversial state flag through a statewide vote is not likely at this time, a recent poll indicates.
The poll, conducted by Mississippi-based Chism Strategies, found that 49 percent oppose changing the flag while 41 percent support the adoption of a new state flag.
Mississippi is the only state that has the Confederate battle emblem as part of the design of its official flag. All eight public universities have stopped flying the flag as well as many local governmental entities.
Efforts have been made in the Legislature to try to force universities and local school districts to fly the flag, but those have been blocked by legislative leadership.
Republican Gov. Phil Bryant has said he would support another statewide vote on whether the flag should be changed. In a 2001 special election, voters by an overwhelming 64-36 percent margin reaffirmed the banner with the Confederate battle emblem as part of its design, first adopted in the 1890s, should remain the state’s official flag instead of an alternative proposal.
The narrative for the Chism poll said, “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.”
And the narrative went on to say it would be a mistake for those who want to change the flag to try to so through a statewide referendum.
“Opponents of a new state flag feel much more strongly than do new flag advocates. Moreover, this flag debate would probably get highjacked 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,” the narrative said.
The poll was conducted in mid September, has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.4 percent and was weighted to reflect the demographic turnout of the 2015 statewide elections.
In general terms most Democratic members of the Legislature support changing the flag through legislation, but the Republican majority has blocked such efforts. House Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, has voiced support for a new flag, but has not been able to get agreement from members of his caucus to take up a bill to change the flag.
Mississippi’s two Republican U.S. senators, Thad Cochran of Oxford and Roger Wicker of Tupelo, also have said they support a new flag design.
The survey found the least support for changing the flag was found in U.S. House District 1, which includes Northeast Mississippi, where only 34 percent support changing the banner.
According to the poll, 62 percent of white voters oppose changing the flag while 65 percent of African Americans support a new design, 19 percent oppose changing the flag and 16 percent of black voters are unsure.
The poll found “a slight majority” of white voters under the age of 65 agree a new flag is needed.
Those supporting changing the flag say it is offensive to African Americans and is an unflattering symbol for the state. Others say it is a symbol of the state’s heritage.
Chism Strategies also polled the issue in 2014. In general, Chism found in the 2017 poll support for changing the flag growing, albeit, slowly. One interesting finding of the 2014 poll was that there was 41-41 split among those who said the Legislature changing the flag would “not be a big deal” and those who said any such action by the Legislature should be reversed by voters.
That question was not asked in the 2017 poll.