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North Carolina may ban Gay Marriage/Civil Unions….but not because they want to

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This Tuesday, there are primary elections in both North Carolina and Indiana.  A good deal of attention is being paid to the tough primary Indiana Senator Richard Lugar is facing, and there is some interest in the Democratic Primary for Governor in North Carolina, but the main focus of my attention this Tuesday is the vote on Amendment One; which if passed will ban both gay marriage and civil unions in the state.  The state of North Carolina already bans gay marriage via statute, and when Democrats controlled all of the government, they never pushed for civil unions.  Nevertheless, when Republicans took control of the state legislature in their 2010 mega-win, putting such bans in the constitution became a top priority.  Now this Tuesday we are faced with a referendum on gay rights, but it is a referendum that is more complicated than most seem to think.

Backstory

Since 2004, conservatives have been working in full force to pass constitutional amendments to ban same-sex marriage.  Some amendments where passed prior to this, but 2004 marked the major kickoff.  Since then, every southern state has passed the ban with the exception of North Carolina.  Most of these states passed the measures with percentages in the 70s and 80s.  Only Virginia staayed in the 50s range.   The map below shows the results of the bans for the southeast.  Red counties are a YES for the ban.  Green counties are a NO for the ban.

Yeah, depressing, I know.  What a shock, the south isn’t a big fan of gay rights.  Florida’s stance (which was 62%) had more to do with age, Florida being older, than with any southern culture (outside the panhandle).   North Carolina was the last state to go.  But Democrats who controlled the legislature refused to take the measure up.  That was, until 2010.

In 2010 the North Carolina legislature became solely Republican for the first time since the 1890s.  The state house had been Republican for a few years in the early to mid 90s, but otherwise, Democrats always ruled both chambers.  Then the 2010 red wave, and a continuation of the “southern realignment” toward the Republican Party (see that post here https://mattsmaps.wordpress.com/2011/07/14/southern-realignment-nears-completion/).   The results where a dramatic move toward the Republican Party in the state, giving them control of both chambers for the first time in 11 decades.

With this new Republican majority, the legislature got down to the important business of the day, banning gay marriage and civil unions.  With the Democratic Governor having no ability to halt the legislatures move to put it on the ballot, the big debate was over whether the measure would be voted on in November 2012 or during the May 2012 primaries.  Democrats, in a stunning display of cowardice, pleased for the measure to be put on the May ballot.  Their reasoning was they feared the measure would cause a conservative upswing in turnout, and doom many Democrats on the November ballot (despite their being no proof this would happen).  They agreed to not make a fuss if it was put on the May primary ballot, which at the time assured its passage.  Originally, the May ballot would be a largely Republican affair for state-wide races.  The Republican Presidential primary was going to be the main attraction, with a lesser-followed Republican Gubernatorial Primary.  Luckily, this view has since changed.  The primaries for President are basically over, and with the Democratic Governor, Bev Perdue, not seeking re-election, the Democratic primary for Governor is now a main attraction in the state.  This has evened out the party turnout field, and at least given gay-rights supports a fighting chance.

When the amendment went to the legislature for approval to get on the ballot, the state senate voted on party lines, with no Democrats agreeing.  However, 10 democrats in the state house backed the measure when a vote came up there.  Truly shameful.

So there you have it, gay marriage and civil unions are now on the ballot in North Carolina.  So lets take a look at where the polling stands on the matter.

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Polling on Amendment One

For the purposes of this section, I will only be referencing polling done by Public Policy Polling, a firm based in North Carolina that has a good track record, polls consistently, and is overall a firm who’s numbers I trust.  There latest poll a few days ago shows the Amendment passes with 55%, with 41% opposing.  So not a good sign.  However, lets break these numbers down a bit.  When we do, you see this isn’t as clear cut as many people think.  PPP points out that the problem is voters don’t understand what the measure does (bans gay marriage AND civil unions), which is important in determining how they vote.

  1. 55% of North Carolina voters FAVOR civil unions
  2. Only 40% understand civil unions are banned under this measure (among them, the amendment fails 38-60)
  3. 27% thinks it only bans gay marriage (passes 72-27 with these people)
  4. 24% have NO IDEA what this amendment does (and yet they favor it 64-28)
  5. 7% think this LEGALIZES GAY MARRIAGE
  6. When voters are INFORMED what the measure actually does, it FAILS 38% to 46%.

So as we can see, the current favorable stance for the amendment is not because the state wants to ban civil unions, rather its because the voters don’t understand what the measure does.  While gay marriage is not popular in the state (27%), civil unions do have decent support at 55%.   This is why, as PPP has stated, educating the voters is the key to victory.
Despite the tough scenario right now, their has been good progress made on this front of education and changing minds.  Polling from PPP has been going back to last fall, and has shown a ever slow closing of the gap.
The closing of the gap is more apparent among Democrats, African-Americans, and Independents.  Democrats started off favoring the amendment, but are now opposed.

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The move with Independents is equally noticeable.  Independents went from being in favor to now being essentially tied

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Finally, the movement from African-Americans is the MOST noteworthy.  Thanks to heavy outreach, and  push by the state’s NAACP, the African-American community has gone from being STRONGLY in favor to actually being against.

These polling line-charts show that movement with key groups is going in the right direction.  Maybe these trends will continue since the last poll that was done this last weekend.  The trends are in the right direction, but the question if it will be enough.

The one group that hasn’t shown movement in the right direct, and what may well be the reason the trends aren’t dramatic enough, is the movement among white voters overall.  There are been the smallest of narrowing, but overall, its not alot.

Overall, the trend lines are slowly in the right direction, but a stalling with white voters is keeping the numbers from not narrowing fast enough.

Regional Breakdown of Support, and the issue of “education”

This section covers where the amendment is currently favored in different parts of the state.  PPP was kind enough to break down their results by area-code, of which there are several major sections.  The area code numbers are to be regarded with some caution, because the sample-size by area code is lower than the sample-size at large, meaning that the margin of error is higher.  Nevertheless, there is something to be learned here.

First, lets take a look at the state as it voted for Barack Obama in 2008, to get a feel for where Democratic strength can lie on a good year.

Now, lets take a look at this map with the area-code boundaries layered on top of it.

So we see some area codes with more blue than others, especially more to the east and central area, with key blue pockets of Charlotte to in the West, and a few rural counties further west.

Now, lets look at how the amendment pulls by area code.  A standard color scheme will be used.  Green will indicate opposition to the amendment, red will indicate support.

From this map, only one area code is narrowly opposing the amendment.  But wait!  What happens if we look at the polling based on when people are educated on what the amendment actually does?  Remember, the polling shows education reverses lots of the support to opposition.

ALL green.  Granted alot of undecideds lower those “yes” numbers, but in these area codes you still have the chance for victory in all of them.  This is what the vote looks like when voters understand why what they are voting for.

This next image actually shows the difference between a YES without the explanation, and a YES when the voter is educated on the amendments effects.  The larger the number, the bigger of a dropoff YES gets

The dropoff in the south part is huge, and that is understandable, because it was an area that did well for Obama, yet seemed really in favor of the amendment.  The dropoff shows that area code’s issue was especially related to education.  Overall the lowest dropoff is 10 points.  That is a shocking figure.  It shows that voters don’t know what they are voting for.

Now, one last image, PPP asked what the voter’s stance on civil unions was by area code as well.  And from that we see this..

All area codes favor civil unions more than they oppose, with the three southern ones just under 50%, an the upper three much more steadfast in support.  These facts should indicate amendment one would easily fail IF voters knew what they where actually voting on.

Conclusions

The voting for Amendment one will be finished on Tuesday.  Maybe an upset will occur, maybe it won’t.  But if amendment one does indeed pass, it must be stressed that passage was NOT a rejection of civil unions in the state.  Rather, this amendment shows the major flaws of direct democracy and ballot measures; that people are voting on referendums they do not understand.  No doubt the media will likely simplify their coverage of this, saying it shouldn’t be  a surprise that a southern state passed such a measure, but the truth is much more complicated than that.

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Update:  ELECTION RESULTS

Well, as expected, the state banned same-sex marriage and civil unions Tuesday night.  This was the final map.

The final vote was fairly close to the polling.   The polls slightly underestimated the results (granted ballot measures are hard to poll).  However, even the last polls showed that voters would have heavily rejected the measure if they understood what the measure did.   The final poll showed the measure would have failed 39-44 if voters understood it banned civil unions.   Undecideds likely would have broken against passing the measure as well.  The result is that the voters understanding of the measure would have caused around a net 17 point swing against amendment one.  Those numbers are based on the polls and on the fact that undecideds tend to break against a measure that is failing leading into election day.  Assuming undecideds would only have slightly broken against the measure, the amendment still fails by a double-digit margin.  To get an idea of what the county map would have looked like under this scenario, we deduct 17  points from each county’s ‘yes’ column.  Granted, this a very crude method of doing things, since the reduction wouldn’t be equal over all counties, but this is just to give a general idea.

While the amendment one may have passed last night.  Its worth repeating again, it did not do so because it wanted it.

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