Poll: Missourians back Confederate flag displays

Associated Press

ST. LOUIS – Two-thirds of Missourians oppose the recent decision by Missouri officials to take down the Confederate flag at two state historic sites where the flag has flown for decades, according to a new poll.

Of the 603 Missourians participating in the poll commissioned by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 45 percent said they "strongly disagreed" with the state’s decision to no longer fly the flag. An additional 21 percent said they "somewhat disagreed" with the decision.

Only 30 percent said they agreed with Gov. Bob Holden and others – including Republican Sens. Kit Bond and Jim Talent and Democratic Rep. Dick Gephardt – that the flag should no longer fly, according to the poll by Zogby International of Utica, N.Y.

The poll’s error margin was 4.1 percentage points. The telephone poll was conducted last Saturday and Sunday.

Almost three of every four persons polled outstate opposed taking down the Confederate flag.

In the St. Louis area, more than half of those surveyed backed the flag including retired union bookkeeper Patricia Pijut and insurance broker Tom Martin. They cite history as the reason for flying the Confederate flag.

Pijut said it is appropriate to allow the flag to fly at Civil War sites and cemeteries. "There was a Confederate army. We can’t change history," she said.

Martin accused the Confederate flag’s critics of "rewriting history to make it politically correct."

But those who object to flying the flag said the issue isn’t its history, but its role as a symbol.

"I don’t think symbols of division are anything that we should be promoting," said Alveta Nelson, a St. Louis teacher.

Nelson said she was not surprised that she is among the minority in the poll. She added that she was not swayed by the argument of flag defenders that the Confederate flag has flown at the Missouri sites for decades.

"Just because something has been done for a long period of time doesn’t make it right," Nelson said. "Slavery went on for a long time, and that wasn’t right."

Missouri’s dispute over the flag has attracted national attention, with some seeing it as a spinoff of the ongoing controversy in South Carolina over the flag.

Gephardt, a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2004, touched off the matter while campaigning recently in South Carolina. He declared that the Confederate flag had no business flying anywhere. At the time, Gephardt was not aware that the flag flew at two sites in Missouri, but he added later that he stuck by his view.

Gephardt’s stance attracted the attention of Missouri officials, including his longtime ally, Holden, and the Missouri flags came down. Since then, Confederate-flag backers have rallied outside the governor’s mansion and pressed for a reversal.

But Talent and Bond, both Republicans, have sided with Holden on the flag – raising questions of how much of a political issue it will be in next year’s statewide elections.

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