A blogger for The Economist also turned to other poll data—and found that on the particular question of interracial marriage, support is weakest in the South, though it’s not universal anywhere. (Support is also weaker among conservatives, Republicans, the less-educated, and—by far the biggest outlier—the elderly.) And then he addressed Cottle’s question about why religion, race, and evolution are relevant now:

Ms Cottle’s complaint is that this isn’t news. Why are we polling on this question? What is the relevance to the Republican presidential primaries? This is partly a fair question, and partly not. On the one hand, it’s certainly true that one reason results like these make newspaper headlines is that they allow northerners and westerners (especially westerners; that’s where interracial marriage is most common) to feel superior about themselves, and look down on ignorant hicks. On the other hand, the fact is that higher levels of racial prejudice and resentment in the South are real and politically relevant, and pretending that political contests these days aren’t affected by racial attitudes is a form of deliberate ignorance that warps our political discussions.

It’s a good point that acknowledges both the disturbing reality behind these numbers and the impure motivations behind the demand to read about them—and that does it without encouraging outsiders to heap scorn on the South, or encouraging Southerners to feel aggrieved about how they’re perceived.

Sadly, this sort of nuance gets lost amid file images of hillbillies and drawling headlines. Going forward, let’s hope that media—with or without Southern ties—realize that fighting back against Southern stereotypes can sometimes amplify them. We should talk about race, and we should talk about ignorance, but with careful steps that move us forward.

If you'd like to get email from CJR writers and editors, add your email address to our newsletter roll and we'll be in touch.

Andria Krewson is an independent journalist in Charlotte and a student in the University of North Carolina's master of arts in technology and digital communication. She worked at The Charlotte Observer for many years. Find her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/underoak or http://twitter.com/akrewson.