Elon poll: Tar Heels of all ages and races oppose anti-LGBT amendment

Advocates: Poll accurately reflects North Carolinians views when told of amendment's true harms

by Matt Comer  Editor  editor@goqnotes.com
Published: November 3, 2011 in News

RALEIGH, N.C. — Statewide LGBT advocacy and education group Equality North Carolina has released new data from a recent Elon University poll showing a majority of North Carolinians oppose an anti-LGBT state constitutional amendment that would ban marriage, civil unions and domestic partnerships for same-sex couples.

The new data contradicts an earlier poll by Durham’s Public Policy Polling and demonstrates opposition to the amendment from a majority of North Carolinians of all ages and races.

On Oct. 12, Public Policy Polling released the results of a Sept. 30-Oct. 3 poll of 671 primary voters that showed the amendment leading 61-34 percent. The Elon University poll, which surveyed voters and non-voters alike, was conducted Sept. 25-29 and showed 56 percent opposed to the amendment.

Of particular note is high opposition to the amendment from African-American voters. Sixty-six percent of African-Americans polled by Elon are opposed to the amendment. Sixty-nine percent favor some sort of legal recognition of same-sex couples’ relationships.

North Carolina House Republicans have attempted to sway the black vote, largely seen as socially conservative, in favor of the amendment. In September, North Carolina House Majority Leader Paul Stam (R-Wake) and Speaker Pro Tem Dale Folwell (R-Forsyth) joined a group of black pastors at a press conference to explain their support for the amendment.

A majority of white poll participants and those of other races were also opposed. Additionally, respondents of all ages voiced opposition to the amendment. Results ranged from 79 percent opposition from those aged 18-24 to just 54 percent opposition from those aged 65 and over. Poll participants of all ages also support some recognition of same-sex couples.

Elon pollsters’ questions differed significantly from those asked by Public Policy Polling. Elon asked, “Would you [support or oppose] an amendment to the North Carolina constitution that would prevent any same sex marriages?” The Public Policy poll, however, used language directly from the amendment’s text, asking, “Would you vote for or against a constitutional amendment to provide that marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this State?”

The difference in polling results might have been influenced by the nature of the questions asked. Public Policy Polling indicated as much when they released their poll.

“This is really a classic example of how small differences in poll question wording can lead to huge differences in how people respond,” the firm said at the time. “Voters are against ‘prohibiting’ recognition for gay couples. But if you word it in such a way that all you’re doing is defining marriage as between one man and one woman, voters are ok with that.  You’re asking about the same thing in both cases, but the semantics make a huge difference and Republicans clearly know what they’re doing with the language that’s on the ballot.”

Anti-gay groups and activists like the National Organization for Marriage and Mary Frances Forrester, wife of the late state Sen. James Forrester (R-Gaston), have said publicly that amendment supporters should never use terms like “ban same-sex marriage.”

“[Saying ‘ban same-sex marriage’] causes us to lose about ten percentage points in polls. Don’t use it,” Forrester wrote. “Say we’re against ‘redefining marriage’ or in favor of ‘marriage as the union of husband and wife’ NEVER ‘banning same-sex marriage.’”

Forrester’s husband, who served 20 years in the North Carolina Senate and was the primary sponsor of the amendment, passed away on Oct. 31. He was 74.

Equality North Carolina Communications Director Jen Jones said the differences in polling questions and their results expose North Carolinians truest thoughts about the amendment.

“It turns out when you tell people what the amendment does, they don’t like it,” she said in an email to qnotes.

In his first interview with North Carolina press on Thursday, Equality North Carolina’s recently-hired executive director, Stuart Campbell, said it was imperative that his group inform voters about the true extent of the amendment’s reach.

“There is a lot of misinformation about what this amendment does or doesn’t do,” Campbell said. “A lot of people think it will create gay marriage and some people think it will stop only gay marriage. In reality, it does so much more.”

Legal scholars, including some legislators and professors Maxine Eichner and Holning Lau of the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill School of Law, have repeatedly warned about the potential, unintended consequences of the anti-LGBT amendment. They have argued its broad, untested language would ban domestic partner benefits for public employees and could impact child custody and visitation, wills, trusts and domestic violence laws.

“I think it is important not only for our community but the community as a whole in North Carolina to realize the extent of harm this amendment could do if it is not defeated on May 8,” Campbell said.

News of opposition to the amendment from a majority of African-American North Carolinians comes just days after Equality North Carolina announced that the North Carolina NAACP president, Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, would participate in a keynote panel at their group’s statewide conference in Greensboro on Nov. 12. Barber previously released a lengthy open letter outlining the state NAACP’s opposition to the amendment.

The anti-LGBT constitutional amendment was approved by legislators in September. It will appear on the May 8, 2012, ballot.

more: Keep up with the latest news from Raleigh and updates on the anti-LGBT amendment at our Legislative Watch: goqnotes.com/in/ncga/.