Sept. 6, 2005
Heritage, hate and support for the Confederate flag
ANN ARBOR, Mich.—Racial cues are a powerful trigger for the familiar gender gap in American politics, a University of Michigan study shows.
The study, presented recently in Washington, D.C. at the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association, analyzes both experimental and survey data to illuminate the role of gender and racial considerations in white southern support for what many civil rights advocates view as one of the most incendiary symbols of racism—the Confederate battle flag.
"This work shows that whatever else the rebel flag represents, for many southerners it is inextricably linked to the politics of race," said U-M political scientist Vincent Hutchings, a faculty associate at the U-M Institute for Social Research (ISR). Hutchings conducted the study with U-M colleague Hanes Walton.
For the study, Hutchings and Walton examined attitudes about the decades-long controversy over the Confederate battle emblem on the Georgia State Flag. The most recent political battle involving this controversial symbol occurred in 2004, when Georgia voters officially approved a new state flag without the Confederate emblem.
"Our aim was to understand how white men and women reacted to this dispute when the conflict was framed in racial terms and when it was not," Hutchings said. For one part of the study, conducted over the Internet in 2004, 539 randomly selected white Georgia adults were shown three different versions of an Atlanta Journal and Constitution newspaper article which framed the controversy in different ways.
In the "heritage" frame, the researchers highlighted the argument that supporters of the Confederate battle flag were only motivated by affection for southern history. In the "black opposition" frame, they emphasized the open hostility most blacks feel for the battle flag. And in the "racist hate-groups frame," they stressed the long-standing link between the Confederate flag and groups such as the Ku Klux Klan.
A matched group of control participants were asked to read an article of similar length about electronic games for children.
All the participants were asked which of three Georgia state flags they most preferred: the current flag with three stripes and the state seal (the 'Perdue flag'), the blue flag adopted in 2001 during the Barnes administration (the 'Barnes flag') or the flag with the Confederate emblem that was the official state flag from 1956 to 2001.
They were also asked about their political party identification and their support for interracial marriage.
Approximately 45 percent of white Georgians favored the current Perdue flag, while 41 percent favored the old flag with the Confederate emblem. Overall, the researchers found no gender difference in support for these flags. But when they examined support for the various flags across the three experimental frames, they found male-female differences grew as the racial implications of the flag debate were portrayed as increasingly salient.
The probability that women that women favored the Confederate flag was almost 50 percent less among those exposed to the hate-group frame compared to those presented with the control frame. Democratic women and political independents were especially influenced by the introduction of racial themes. "Remarkably," the researchers noted, "men moved in the opposite direction, even though flag supporters are painted in a particularly unflattering light in the hate-group frame."
The researchers also found that the impact of old-fashioned racist attitudes, measured by attitudes toward interracial marriage, was about 40 percent greater for white men than for white women.
Hutchings suggested several reasons for gender differences in the impact of racial considerations on support for the battle flag. "Boys and girls are socialized differently, with women more likely to internalize a sense of responsibility for the most vulnerable in society," he said. "In addition to a generally more egalitarian perspective on social group relations, there's some evidence that women respond more positively than men to racially inclusive political cues. This impact may be especially pronounced in the South, where changes in party identification among white men and white women over time have been particularly distinctive."
Established in 1948, the Institute for Social Research (ISR) is among the world's oldest survey research organizations, and a world leader in the development and application of social science methodology. ISR conducts some of the most widely-cited studies in the nation, including the Survey of Consumer Attitudes, the National Election Studies, the Monitoring the Future Study, the Panel Study of Income Dynamics, the Health and Retirement Study, and the National Survey of Black Americans. ISR researchers also collaborate with social scientists in more than 60 nations on the World Values Surveys and other projects, and the Institute has established formal ties with universities in Poland, China, and South Africa. ISR is also home to the Inter-University Consortium for Political and Social Research (ICPSR), the world's largest computerized social science data archive. Visit the ISR Web site at www.isr.umich.edu for more information.
Contact: Diane Swanbrow
Phone: (734) 647-9069