A new survey has found that two-thirds of Republicans living in the American South would approve of seceding from the US to join a hypothetical new union of southern states.
The alarming finding comes as the partisan alignment of different regions of the US becomes more extreme – and extends beyond politics and into Covid-19 vaccine takeup, with parts of the Southeast lagging well behind the rest of the country.
The poll, conducted by YouGov and Bright Line Watch, saw respondents across the country asked whether they would support joining an imaginary “union” of neighbouring states.
The pollsters divided the US into five of these groups: a Pacific one of California, Oregon, Washington, Alaska and Hawaii; “Mountain”, a slice down the Western states; “Heartland”, taking in the upper and central Midwest as well as some of the rust belt; “Northeast”, covering New England and the Mid-Atlantic states; and the “South”, which combined the 11 states that formally joined the Confederacy in 1860-61 with Kentucky and Oklahoma.
According to the results, a fair share of Democrats, Independents and Republicans in different regions can imagine leaving the US to join a smaller union might be a positive thing. But in only one region, the South, did a majority of one group come out in favour – with 66 per cent of Southern Republicans approving of the idea of a secessionist Southern union.
Bright Line Watch cautioned that the results of this part of their poll are not to be taken literally, since “secession is a genuinely radical proposition and expressions of support in a survey may map only loosely onto willingness to act toward that end”. However, they say, the hypothetical question nonetheless “taps into respondents’ commitments to the American political system at the highest level and with reference to a concrete alternative”.
In that light, it is remarkable to see that two-thirds of Southern Republicans are amenable to the idea of living outside the US – more than 20 points higher than the share of Republicans saying the same in any other region. And the figure is especially stark given the prevailing climate on the American right and debates around the status of Confederate monuments and the Confederate flag.
However, there has as yet been no serious talk of secession in the political mainstream. One national Republican figure to have raised the idea is Allen West, a former Tea Party congressman from Florida who moved to Texas to head up the state Republican Party. During his tenure, the party endorsed legislation that would allow a “Texit” referendum on the state’s membership of the US, a matter on which he said “Texans have the right to voice their opinion”.
Mr West recently announced he is challenging incumbent GOP governor Greg Abbott in his 2022 re-election campaign. However, the idea of a Texit referendum has shown little sign of gathering support.
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