Business Interests and Public Officials’ Support for the Removal of Racially Intolerant Symbols
35 Pages Posted: 23 Dec 2016 Last revised: 22 Aug 2017
Date Written: August 20, 2017
Why do some officials support removing Confederate symbols from public spaces, while others defend keeping them? Do the business backgrounds and interests of elected officials affect their support or opposition to Confederate symbols? Traditionally, scholars have presented Confederate symbols as only a social or cultural issue: elites supporting their eradication from public life tend to emphasize the association of Confederate symbols with slavery and institutionalized racism, while those elected officials who oppose the removal of Confederate symbols often cite southern cultural heritage. In addition to these established social, cultural, and racial factors, we argue that there is also an economic component underlying support for removal of Confederate symbols among political elites. Business-owning public officials are more likely to support removal of Confederate symbols because the presence of such imagery is widely considered detrimental for business. Examining roll-call votes in the U.S. House, the South Carolina state legislature, and the Arkansas state legislature, we find that lawmakers who own businesses are more likely to support removal of racially intolerant symbols. A survey experiment of elected officials in 11 southern states also shows that framing the decision to remove Confederate symbols as good for business causes those elected officials to favor removing the Confederate flag from public spaces.
Keywords: Race, Legislatures, Representation, Economic Interests, Legislative Voting, State Politics, Symbolic Politics, Race and Politics
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