In this April 25, 2020 photograph, a small Mississippi state flag is held by a participant during a drive-by “re-open Mississippi” protest past the Governor’s Mansion, in the background, in Jackson, Miss. This current flag has in the canton portion of the banner the design of the Civil War-era Confederate battle flag, that has been the center of a long-simmering debate about its removal or replacement.

Support to replace the state flag, which includes the Confederate battle emblem as part of its design, appears to be gaining momentum, based on the latest polling from Mississippi-based Chism Strategies.

Forty-six percent support retaining the old flag compared to 44.9 percent who support changing it. In terms of polling, the outcome would essentially be considered a statistical tie. In September 2017, when Chism polled on the same question, the result was 49 percent to 41 percent in favor of the old flag.

“National polls confirm that our nation is wrestling with the issues of race and criminal justice reform like no other time in the last 40 years,” said Brad Chism of Chism Strategies. “This poll shows that many Mississippians are engaged in that debate. But polls are a snapshot in time. As of last Wednesday, there was not enough support to change the state flag. But there was more support than ever before. And there is momentum on the side of change.”

Chism Strategies, which often does work for Democratic politicians, polled on the issue in light of the renewed efforts this legislative session to change the flag.

Those efforts were revived amid nationwide protests, including in Mississippi, over police brutality directed primarily at African Americans. The recent death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers has galvanized communities across the country.

In 2001, the Legislature placed on the ballot a binding resolution asking voters would they rather keep the old flag or replace it with a new design. The old flag garnered 64 percent of the vote.

Many supporters of changing the flag are reluctant to hold another statewide vote on the issue. But Gov. Tate Reeves and many legislators maintain that the flag should not be changed unless by a vote of the people.

Chism said support for changing the flag obviously is gaining momentum, but he said despite the polling at this point he thinks it still would be a long shot to change the flag via an election.

The poll found among respondents age 65 and over support the old flag by an overwhelming 62 percent to 25 percent margin. In all other age categories, changing the flag led by a 52 percent to 41 percent margin.

Self-identified Republicans support the old flag by 81 percent to 11 percent, while Democrats favor replacing the banner by a 74 percent to 17 percent margin. Independents favor a new flag 54 percent to 32 percent.

Among black Mississippians, 84 percent favor changing the flag.

“Passions are high on both sides of this issue and we see a large age break,” Chism said. “Champions of the current flag are mostly white senior citizens and hardcore Republican voters who turn out in greater numbers in most elections than younger voters, Democrats and independents, who largely favor a new flag.”

Chism continued: “Earlier polls confirmed that African Americans cared about many issues in addition to a new flag—better health care, criminal justice reform, better roads… A huge question now is whether the energy in the movement in the wake of the George Floyd tragedy will focus on the state flag or some other issue.”

On both sides of the question four of five respondents said the issue is “very important.” Those who support changing the flag cite such items as the flag being racist and national reputation of the state as reasons for their position. Those who support the current flag say they do so because the banner represents the state’s heritage.

The poll, conducted during one day last week, of 540 Mississippians on cellphones and landlines has a margin of error of 4.4 percent. African Americans represent 33 percent of the respondents.

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Bobby Harrison, Mississippi Today’s senior capitol reporter, covers politics, government and the Mississippi State Legislature. He also writes a weekly news analysis which is co-published in newspapers statewide. A native of Laurel, Bobby joined our team June 2018 after working for the North Mississippi Daily Journal in Tupelo since 1984. He is president of the Mississippi Capitol Press Corps Association and works with the Mississippi State University Stennis Institute to organize press luncheons. Bobby has a bachelor's in American Studies from the University of Southern Mississippi and has received multiple awards from the Mississippi Press Association, including the Bill Minor Best Investigative/In-depth Reporting and Best Commentary Column.