By Senator Brice Wiggins, District 52
With recent events once again bringing attention to our state flag, on Saturday, June 6, I created an interactive poll on my Facebook Page to gauge the opinions of Mississippians. When I first posted the poll, I truly did not imagine it would have such an impact and draw thousands of responses. We all know this has been a hot topic of debate amongst Mississippians for some time. In creating the poll, I had a genuine interest in seeing the results from anyone who would voluntarily participate.
Many people have wondered why I posted this poll. The short answer is that I have continually seen Mississippians communicate that they have an issue with the flag. So, instead of turning a blind eye, I always want to take a leadership role as an elected official to ask for communication and opinions from constituents on any situation, especially ones that seem to bring divide to our communities. After all, is that not what people ask of us –to find solutions? But in order to do that, we must first listen to those we represent. Otherwise, we’d be shirking our responsibility by ignoring them, would we not? All Mississippians deserve to be heard. I would like to thank everyone who participated and weighed in. Engaging in these important policy decisions is what makes our state and our country great.
Before we jump into the polling data, I want to address a couple of items that were communicated to me through comments, messages, and phone calls throughout the polling process:
- The question on the poll could be viewed as favoring the Stennis Flag. I would like to clarify that I wanted to force people to make a decision by choosing between one or the other, like a primary; when there is more than one answer, people won’t commit. (My time trying cases before juries and in the Senate has taught me that most people look for a way out instead of making a hard decision.) The Stennis Flag has received overwhelming support over the last few years from Mississippians – from car tags, flags flying from houses to Facebook profile picture filters. But, we cannot say this is something that “Mississippians have their mind made up on.” That is simply not true.
- While there is strong support for the Stennis flag, it is not the runaway favorite. There were numerous people commenting who could not connect to the Stennis Flag and voiced support for the Magnolia or the Bicentennial Flag. What is the takeaway from this? A majority of participants would like some sort of change but just cannot agree on what that change looks like.
- The legitimacy of the polling data. I saw plenty of comments about the poll and whether the results are in fact sound. I do believe true scientific polling data is needed on this issue. This was only to gauge responses from Mississippians willing to participate and to get an updated pulse of the situation.
Here is the breakdown of how the data is collected and how someone can only participate once:
A. Your Facebook ID is a unique long number that identifies each Facebook user. By recording a Facebook ID along with the answers, the app ensures that a user cannot vote twice with the same Facebook account.
B. Your IP address is an internet identifier for your computer. Your IP address tells websites you visit how to reach you and send you the information. Think of it as a postal address but for the internet. Since IP addresses are not unique to one device, the poll app will let different people vote from the same IP address. However, someone trying to vote with a previously used IP address will also be required to authorize the app so that their unique Facebook ID can be recorded along with their answers.
Now, let’s discuss the results of the poll. Just a reminder: this is in no way a formal vote. No, this does not change anything immediately. We will discuss at the end the options for Mississippians on this issue.
Polling Data – Number of Respondents + Location
Total Number of Responses: 6,687
Yes Votes: 5,062 for a total of 75.7%
No Votes: 1,625 for a total of 24.3%
This poll was only over the weekend and garnered that much traffic. One of the things that this poll has kind of crystallized for me is that this new generation, the millennial generation, has not had the chance to have their voice heard. These millennials range from their mid-thirties to the early twenties. To be blunt, they make up the footprint of the future of Mississippi. More than one-in-three American labor force participants (35%) are millennials, making them the largest generation in the U.S. labor force, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data.
54% of participants responded to the poll after seeing someone they knew or were connections with share the poll and post about it. This shows that a majority of participants were not just followers of my Facebook page that has 2,600 followers.
Location of Poll Participants
The above graphic shows the most telling data of the poll. There were plenty of people who were commenting that Mississippians were not participating, etc. While we did have people from all over the country participate, the only numbers I am paying attention to are here at home.
Mississippians represent 64.1% for a total of 4,267 respondents
Let’s remove the people from out of state who responded and use the above numbers for a breakdown:
Yes Votes – 3,373
No Votes – 894
This shows that 79% of Mississippians responded to change the current flag.
This tells me, once again, as an elected official, I need to pay close attention to this and talk to the people I represent. The most important thing I can do as an elected official right now is to listen and to lead. That is exactly what I will continue to do on situations directly affecting Mississippians.
I have publicly said that this vote can be taken by the legislature. It is a statute, and we in the legislature every year vote on statutes. And while I respect and understand the peoples’ vote in 2001 when it went to the people, the reality is that we in the legislature have the right to vote on it. The question has always been and always will be: are we going to have a vote on it? Those are things as a whole that are outside of my control. However, there’s also the process of the referendum, of putting it on the ballot for next year and bypassing the legislative process. That way, you don’t have to rely on the legislature.
I respect the history that we have. We’re all connected by that. What it’s become, as we can tell by the Facebook poll, is that this flag is a divisive issue. Especially, for the African American community in Mississippi. If people deny that, I think they are not facing the reality that the flag that represents the state of Mississippi should be a uniting one. Mississippians are courageous, resilient, creative, and passionate. Right now, on this particular issue, our passion is divided. It is critical to our future that we work through this together and unite.
We are better together.