Sumter Shots Separate Sensibilities

The last first shot of the US Civil War occurred 150 years ago today (“last first shot” indicating that in the preceding months and years there were other incidents of violence or near-violence leading up to this seminal moment).

That there is STILL widespread belief that the primary cause of the Civil War was anything other than the perpetuation of slavery continues to amaze me. Yet a new CNN poll (pdf) finds that to be the case:

What do you think was the MAIN reason why the leaders of the southern states seceded from the U.S.? Do you think they did so mainly because they wanted slavery to remain legal in their states, or do you think that slavery was not the main reason why they seceded from the U.S.? (Apr. 9-10, 2011)

Slavery was main reason 54%

Slavery was not main reason 42%

Mixed (vol.) 1%

No opinion 3%

Forty-two percent of Americans state “slavery was not main reason,” but when you disaggregate the response based on characteristics like race, gender, income and political affiliation, the change reveals something very interesting. Here are the percentage of respondents for these categories who answered “not main reason” that diverge significantly from “42%”:

White: 47% / Non-White: 33%

Under 50: 45% / Older than 50: 40%

Democrat: 30% / Liberal: 27%

Republican: 52% / Conservative: 47%

Northeast: 39% / South: 44%

Tea Party support: 54% / Tea Party oppose: 27%

Take a look at all the specifics, but what really stands out, what really explains the difference from the mean is NOT age or income or not even geography to some extent. The top explanation of difference from the mean–the primary reason people are more or less inclined to believe that slavery was NOT the main reason for the conflict, is political ideology. The highest percent over 42 in the data come from Republicans (+10%) and Tea Party supporters (+12%).

– Fred Dews, April 12, 2011

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