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John Oliver on the Confederate flag: “Lower it all the way down”

"The Confederate flag is one of those symbols that should really only be seen on T-shirts, belt buckles and bumper stickers to help the rest of us identify the worst people in the world," John Oliver said  Sunday on Last Week Tonight.

Harsh words, but public opinion polling suggests he isn't alone in that sentiment. In 2011, the Pew Research Center asked Americans how they felt about the Confederate flag. Among all Americans, negative reactions outnumbers positive ones by three-to-one -- although the largest share of respondents said the flag made them feel nothing at all.

Republicans (15 percent) were twice as likely as Democrats or Independents to view the flag favorably. But even among Republicans, negative sentiment outweighed positive feelings. The only group to feel more positively than negatively toward the flag was white Southerners -- 22 percent said they had a positive reaction to the flag, versus 13 percent who had a negative one.

But the overall ambivalence toward the flag -- 88 percent of Americans either dislike it or feel nothing at all -- hasn't stopped it from being a potent political issue in Southern states. As Oliver notes, some states still include the Confederate battle flag or references to it in their official state flags -- something South Carolina hasn't done since the Civil War.

In the wake of the Charleston shootings, many observers have called on South Carolina to take the flag down. Or, as Oliver puts it:

Lower the flag down to half staff. And then, when its at half staff, why not keep lowering it all the way down and once you're holding it in your hands, take it off the flag pole completely, fold it -- or don't bother! -- put it in a box, label it "Bad Flag," and put it somewhere no-one can see it.

The fight over a Confederate emblem

COLUMBIA, SC - JUNE 27: Demonstrators protest at the South Carolina State House calling for the Confederate flag to remain on the State House grounds June 27, 2015 in Columbia, South Carolina. Earlier in the week South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley expressed support for removing the Confederate flag from the State House grounds in the wake of the nine murders at Mother Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, South Carolina. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)