Support for Confederate symbols and monuments follows lines of race, religion, and education rather than geography.
“. … . .though the Civil War was a battle between two regions of the country, sympathy for the Confederacy is no longer confined to states that seceded and border states. Support for Confederate symbols and monuments now exists across the country, following lines of race, religion, and education rather than geography. This is one of many ways in which the South is no longer simply a region: A certain version of it has become an identity shared among white, rural, conservative Americans from coast to coast.
The Southern Poverty Law Center’s inventory of Confederate memorials and monuments includes a surprising number outside the South. A plaque celebrating Lee in Brooklyn (yes, that one with the Dodgers and the tree growing and the hipsters) was removed only in 2017; in August, a Pentagon commission reported on KKK imagery at West Point, the military academy.
Southernization coincides with a geographic sorting in the United States. Not long ago, there were Democrats in both rural and urban areas and in every region of the country; the same was true of Republicans. But now Democrats are largely extinct as a political force in rural areas throughout the country, and few and far between in statewide offices across the South. Republicans, meanwhile, are wholly marginalized in almost every large city and have vanished from the Northeast. The GOP is a mostly white party; overwhelming portions of Black voters cast ballots for Democrats. The result is that the backbone of the Republican Party is a group of Americans who are white, rural, and conservative; many have lower educational attainment than Democrats (though not necessarily lower income), and they typically identify as evangelical Christian.
One product of the divide among white voters is a big split about views of the Confederacy between the parties. Only 1 percent of white Republicans want Confederate monuments removed, but 16 percent of white Democrats do—nearly identical to the 17 percent of Democrats overall who support removal, though still less than the 28 percent of Black Democrats who do. In North Carolina, where many urban centers have seen Confederate monuments torn down, demands for change have been powered in part by a coalition of Black from-heres and white come-heres.
Where fights over monuments have broken out, their defenders have often fallen back on the old argument that the statues and plaques and flags are symbols not of racist hate but of heritage and regional pride. This argument has always had its flaws. The heritage is not that of Black southerners, and you seldom hear them defending the Confederate flag. (Per the PRRI-EPU survey, just 16 percent of Black Americans see the flag as a sign of pride, not racism, versus half of Americans overall.) But the heritage argument is even harder to credit when support for Confederate symbols is as strong in states that fought to preserve the union. The South is everywhere now, and so are its worst political pathologies.