Va. voters split on blame for Charlottesville violence, want Confederate statues to stay
By Fenit Nirappil
A slim majority of Virginia voters think that Confederate monuments should stay on public property, according to a new survey, and those polled are split on who is to blame for the violence during the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville.
After a deadly protest Aug. 12 by white supremacists opposed to Charlottesville’s plan to remove a statue of Robert E. Lee from a downtown park, residents and political leaders across the state and country have been debating the place of Confederate statues on public property.
Virginia has more than 200 Confederate statues, thought to be the most of any state.
In the days following the violence, which left one counterprotester and two state troopers who were monitoring the rally dead and more than a dozen injured, Gov. Terry McAuliffe, gubernatorial candidate Ralph Northam and other Virginia Democrats have called for Confederate monuments to be relocated to museums. Republican Ed Gillespie wants to keep the statues but add historical context.
A slim majority of Virginia voters — 51 percent — want the statues to remain on public property while 28 percent would like them removed, according to a poll released Tuesday by MassInc.
A majority — 52 percent — of voters polled also consider the monuments part of Southern heritage while just 25 percent believe the statues are symbols of racism.
Republicans overwhelmingly favored preserving the statues, and a majority of independents agreed with them. Only a slim majority of Democrats wanted them gone.
Nonwhite voters were split on whether the monuments represent heritage or racism but favored taking them down by a 15-point margin.
Voters were split on who was most responsible for the violence in Charlottesville, with 40 percent blaming the white nationalist marchers and 41 percent blaming the white nationalists and the counterprotesters equally.
The results showed a partisan split: About two-thirds of Republicans blamed both sides, while a similar proportion of Democrats blamed the white nationalists. Independents leaned toward blaming both sides, with 42 percent holding that view and 36 percent blaming the white nationalists.
However, the poll suggests that President Trump’s scattershot response to the violence — initially criticizing violence on “many sides” without explicitly condemning the hate groups involved, denouncing those groups and then again blaming both sides — turned off voters who otherwise may have agreed with him.
More than half of Virginia voters disapproved — nearly all of them strongly — of the way Trump handled the events in Charlottesville, including a fifth of Republicans. Thirty percent of voters approved of his response.
The survey results were nearly identical to a Washington Post-ABC News poll that found twice as many Americans disapproved as approved of the president’s response to Charlottesville.
About 41 percent of Virginia voters approved of McAuliffe’s handling of Charlottesville, the biggest crisis of his nearly four years in office, while 27 percent disapproved.
MassInc. surveyed 508 Virginia voters between Aug. 15 and Aug. 19. The results have a margin of error of plus or minus 4.4 percentage points.
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