"Monumental Changes? Confederate Symbol Removals and Racial Attitudes in the United States"
Abstract: Scholars have long contended that symbols play an important role in politics, yet existing research tells us little about how physical and rhetorical contestations around symbols impact public opinion. This paper uses two waves of Confederate symbol removals in the United States to examine how local changes in the built environment, in conjunction with salient national events, shape racial attitudes. Using a difference-in-differences strategy with repeated cross-sectional and panel data, I find that the removal of Confederate symbols, on average, decreased racial resentment, increased support for affirmative action, and increased warm feelings (as measured with thermometer scores) toward Blacks. These effects are strongest at the hyper-local level, decaying with distance, and the effects are most robust among Black respondents and in former Confederate states. These preliminary findings add to a growing body of research that centers Black public opinion and broader debates on the politics of commemoration and historical memory in the US and abroad.
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