Though deeply divided along racial lines, about two-thirds of Louisiana’s voters oppose removing monuments and place names that honor Confederate leaders and soldiers, according to a statewide survey.
The New Orleans City Council is expected to vote soon on removing four monuments that remember leaders who fought a war to keep slavery and a short uprising that sought to overturn an integrated postwar government.
Though it’s chiefly a New Orleans issue, what to do with Confederate iconography has spilled over into state politics.
All four gubernatorial candidates and Gov. Bobby Jindal have weighed in on what’s happening in New Orleans. And the Governor’s Office is being pressured to call a special session of the Legislature to consider the issue.
Ron Faucheux, who conducted the poll for The Advocate and WWL-TV, acknowledges that the size of the survey’s sample in New Orleans was not large enough to determine sentiment there. His Clarus Research Group personally interviewed 800 likely voters across the state by telephone from Sept. 20 through Sept. 23. The margin of error is 3.46 percent.
The poll found that 68 percent of those surveyed across the state opposed removing the Confederate monuments, while 18 percent favored the move.
“When you have 68 to 18 lopsided percentages, that’s an indication that there’s serious saliency to an issue,” Faucheux said. “I would point out that twice as many were undecided (about whom to vote for) in the governor’s race than were undecided about this issue.”
Nine percent of those surveyed said they hadn’t made up their minds about how to handle Confederate memorials, and 18 percent said they didn’t know whom they would vote for among the nine candidates running for governor in the Oct. 24 election.
The Advocate/WWL poll showed a somewhat partisan and racial divide on the issue.
While 90 percent of the self-identified Republicans opposed removing the statues, Democrats were more evenly split. More Democrats opposed the move — 42 percent — than favored it — 35 percent.
Along racial lines, 31 percent of the African-Americans surveyed opposed removing the Confederate monuments; 46 percent, less than a majority, favored removal. Eighty-five percent of the white voters opposed, and only 5 percent approved of removing.
Twenty-eight percent of the 800 registered voters surveyed were black.
The topic came to the forefront in a June 24 speech, during which New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu called for removing the statue of Robert E. Lee, head of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, from atop a column at the famous St. Charles Avenue traffic circle. He was speaking a week after an avowed white supremacist was accused of killing nine black parishioners at a Charleston, South Carolina, church. (Landrieu said he had been considering the move for some time.)
In the aftermath of the Charleston shootings, local governments in places like Memphis, Tennessee, and Birmingham, Alabama, voted to reconsider Confederate remembrances in their cities.
Several New Orleans city commissions have voted to recommend removing the statues of Lee; Confederate Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard, a St. Bernard Parish native, at the entrance to City Park; and Confederate President Jefferson Davis from the parkway that bears his name; plus a 35-foot obelisk commemorating a failed three-day coup in 1874 by the White League against Louisiana’s racially integrated Reconstruction government. The Battle of Liberty Place Memorial stands behind Canal Place.
Backers relied on a city ordinance that allows the City Council to remove public statues that celebrate racist ideologies.
All four candidates for governor have commented on the issue.
Democratic state Rep. John Bel Edwards said the decision should be left to the mayor, City Council and other officials in New Orleans. The major Republican candidates, however, denounced the push to remove the statues.
Some supporters of the monuments are urging Jindal to call a special session to pass legislation that would preserve them. Jindal, who has been a vocal supporter of the monuments, has made no formal decision on whether to call lawmakers back to Baton Rouge to address the issue, but his administration said Friday that it’s weighing its options.
“We have made clear our opposition to tearing down these historic statues,” Jindal spokesman Doug Cain said in an email Friday. “This is not only a question of historic preservation but a question of constitutionally protected rights.”
Elizabeth Crisp, of The Advocate Capitol news bureau, contributed to this report. Follow Mark Ballard on Twitter, @MarkBallardCNB.
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