BOBBY HARRISON: Interracial marriage poll does not reflect reality

By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal

JACKSON – Mississippi has been in the national news a good bit in recent weeks because of a poll claiming nearly half of the state’s Republican voters believe interracial marriage should be illegal.
Now, I am no public relations expert, but my guess is that is not a good reason to be in the news. Who knows? Maybe for some it is.
According to North Carolina-based Public Policy Polling, described as Democratic pollsters, 46 percent of Republican primary voters polled told a telephone interviewer they have never met before that they believe interracial marriage should be illegal. My first question is why would anyone reveal his or her personal feelings on such a sensitive issue to a complete stranger?
The poll, conducted in March, has a margin of error of about 5 percent, meaning the actual results could be 5 percent more or less. PPP quizzed 400 Republican primary voters for the poll and 40 percent said interracial marriage should not be illegal.
It is not my intent to voice opposition or support for the validity of the poll. While the sample size is relatively small, media outlets cite similar polls all the time in their reporting. But polls are snapshots in time that can be influenced by a lot of factors.
For instance, people in Mississippi do not register party affiliation. Many people who would not identify themselves as Republican might vote on a regular basis in that party’s primary – based on the people running for office locally – or might vote in the Democratic primary for the same reason.
Regardless of the poll’s validity, this is another issue surrounding race that Gov. Haley Barbour will have to deal with as he prepares to run for president.
In reality, though, a poll is one thing, but Mississippians spoke to this issue not that long ago.
In 1987, the Mississippi Legislature – by a mandated two-thirds majority – voted to put on the ballot a proposal to remove the provision in the state Constitution that stated “the marriage of a white person with a Negro, Mulatto or person having a certain percentage of Negro blood shall be unlawful and void.”
That language, adopted by the framers of the Constitution in the 1890s, will not be found in the document anymore. Mississippi voters, by margin of 264,064 to 246,135, opted to remove the provision on Nov. 3, 1987.
Sure, it was a close vote. And it was a little revealing the number of counties where the proposal to repeal the ban on interracial marriage was defeated – including many in Northeast Mississippi.
There were 10 constitutional resolutions on the ballot that year, and the proposal legalizing interracial marriage passed by a much slimmer margin that the others.
The proposal with the next closest vote total – requiring corporation charters to be recorded in the chancery clerk’s office – passed 353,119 to 145,427.
It should be noted, though, that the vote legalizing interracial marriage occurred almost a quarter of a century ago.
Times have changed considerably since then. In 1987, Alcorn County voted against repealing the ban on interracial marriage. In 2007, Alcorn, along with portions of Tippah and Tishomingo, voted to elect an African-American – Eric Powell – to the state Senate.
The election of a black to a Senate district that was composed of more than 90 percent white Mississippians was historic. It also is a sign of a changing time.
Is the poll accurate?
I grew up in Mississippi – a rural part of the state. Like many Mississippians, I have witnessed a lot of disturbing racial incidents. I have no doubt that Mississippi has more than its share of people with racist views – probably more than most states. But I also have no doubt that the views of Mississippians on race have changed and are still changing. I see that every day – in the schools, at church, in everyday social functions.
I live in perhaps the most Republican area of the state. Yet, I am convinced that a large – closer to unanimous than not – percentage of people I see every day would not hold the view that interracial marriage should be illegal.
Does Mississippi still have a long way to go in terms of race?
You betcha.
But we have come far. Interaction every day tells me that – regardless of any poll.

Bobby Harrison is the Daily Journal’s Capitol Bureau Chief. Contact him at bobby.harrison@journalinc.com or call (601) 353-3119.