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How does the South feel about race, religion, and politics? Winthrop has a poll for that

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Lots of subtle (and not so subtle) variations paint a picture of the contemporary U.S. South in Winthrop University's latest survey.

The Winthrop University Poll released its Southern Focus Survey Wednesday, a look at how residents in 11 Southern states view the topics of abortion access, Former-President Donald Trump’s role in the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol insurrection, race, gender, the Confederacy, and government leaders.

The survey’s findings:

Abortion

When it comes to abortion access, three in four residents of Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia believe a woman should be able to obtain a legal abortion if the pregnancy threatens the woman’s life or health.

Numbers were high for both Democrats and Republicans surveyed. Among Democrats, 85 percent believe in legal access in life-threatening situations; 71 percent of Republicans feel the same. The same percentage of Democrats believe a woman should have legal access to abortion if the pregnancy is the result of rape; 65 percent of Republicans agree.

Support dropped overall for situations in which the baby was likely to be born with severe disabilities or health problems, but was still at least half among groups surveyed by Winthrop.

“As more states across the South move to increase restrictions on abortion, if not eliminate it completely,” said survey director Scott Huffmon of the Winthrop Poll, “they should keep in mind that the typical citizen definitely believes in some exceptions.”

Jan. 6 and the 2020 Election

Overall, 44 percent of residents in the same states believe Trump should be charged with a crime for his involvement in the events of Jan. 6, 2021. But differences were sharp along party lines. Three-quarters of Democrats said he should be charged, three-quarters of Republicans said he should not be charged.

About half of respondents have been following Congressional hearings concerning what happened on Jan. 6. Only half of the respondents said they believed that the results of the 2020 presidential election were fair and accurate. Seventy percent of those who identified strongly as “MAGA” Republicans said the 2020 election was fair.

“While the solid majority of Republicans do not believe the election was fair or accurate, Huffmon said, “it is of note that those who more strongly identify as ‘traditional’ Republicans were 7 points more likely to believe in the legitimacy of the election results than those who strongly identify as ‘MAGA’ Republicans.”

Approval for Government Leaders 

Approval ratings for President Joe Biden in the South came in at 35 percent overall, with opinions greatly depending on party.

Opinions on Trump were more 50/50 overall, but the former president remains popular with those who self-identify as Republicans – 84 percent view him favorably.

Nearly 60 percent overall (and 78 percent of Republicans) disapprove of how Congress is handling its job. And half of all respondents also disapprove of the way the U.S. Supreme Court handles its job.

Race, Churches, Gender, and ‘Uncomfortable’ Topics

Nearly half of respondents said they don’t feel comfortable at all talking about politics with someone they don’t know well, nearly a third don’t want to talk race relations, and a fourth don’t want to discuss religion, according to the poll. That’s especially true when different races enter the discussion.

“While whites and Blacks are about equally comfortable discussing religion,” Huffmon said, “white southerners are notably more uncomfortable discussing race with a stranger than Black southerners.”

About 45 percent of respondents agree that churches and other religious organizations focus too much on rules and are too involved with politics, but two-thirds agreed that churches and religious organizations bring people together and strengthen community ties. More than half agree that such groups protect and strengthen morality in society.

When it comes to discrimination against different groups, the survey finds that most people, regardless of race, believe non-whites receive more discrimination.

“Whites and Blacks see a very different landscape when looking at discrimination,” Huffmon said. “Black southerners are two and a third times more likely to believe Blacks face ‘a lot’ of discrimination. They are also more likely than whites to believe Hispanics and Asians face ‘a lot’ of discrimination.”

Three-fourths of all respondents said Hispanics and Asians face some or a lot of discrimination. The same holds mostly true for the LGBTQ community and Muslims, though Democrats tend to believe this more than Republicans.

Three-quarters of women say they face discrimination; 61 percent of men agreed. Far fewer people said men face discrimination.

About half said Christians face some or a lot of discrimination; two-thirds of Republicans said so. Half of all respondents said the federal government should not declare the United States a Christian nation. More than a third said the federal government shouldn’t advocate Christian values. Half agreed that the federal government should enforce strict separation of church and state.

Half also agreed that the federal government should allow the display of religious symbols in public spaces. About 43 percent agreed that the success of this country is “part of God’s plan.” Another 45 percent agreed that the federal government should allow prayer to be read over the intercom to all students in public schools.

Confederate legacy

A third of all respondents said to leave alone the memorials to Confederate soldiers who died during the Civil War. Around 30 percent of residents said to add a marker for context. Eighteen percent overall said to move them to a museum, but a third of Black respondents said to move them to a museum.

“There is still a strong racial divide on how statues of the Confederacy should be treated,” Huffmon said. “Whites were two and a half times more likely than Black respondents to want to leave them just as they are.”

The Confederate battle flag brings up strong feelings among Southerners that also divide along racial lines. Half of white respondents said the flag is a symbol of Southern pride. Meanwhile, 43 percent of Black respondents felt the flag was a symbol of racial conflict and only 9 percent stated it represented Southern pride.

Scott Morgan is the Upstate multimedia reporter for South Carolina Public Radio, based in Rock Hill. He cut his teeth as a newspaper reporter and editor in New Jersey before finding a home in public radio in Texas. Scott joined South Carolina Public Radio in March of 2019. His work has appeared in numerous national and regional publications as well as on NPR and MSNBC. He's won numerous state, regional, and national awards for his work including a national Edward R. Murrow.