Opponents of Amendment One, a proposed change to North Carolina’s state constitution that would only ensure legal recognition for marriage between a man and a woman, have long contended that as voters learn more about the measure support for it will drop. There is now mounting evidence to corroborate that claim, so much so that the amendment may be facing an improbable defeat.
Over the last month, there have been indications that the tide is turning — typified by both a groundswell of opposition toward the amendment and a confluence of events that have stymied its support. The latest proof that the race is tightening came earlier this week, when the Democratic-leaning and Raleigh-based Public Policy Polling (PPP) released the results of a survey showing that 54 percent of likely voters intend to vote for Amendment One, while 40 percent are opposed. That’s still a strong majority to be sure, but it also represents the lowest level of support that PPP has found for Amendment One since it began polling last October. Perhaps most promising for opponents is the shift in opinion among North Carolina Democrats, who were were divided over the issue in PPP’s survey a month ago. The latest poll shows only 38 percent of Democratic voters support the amendment, with 56 percent opposed. Additionally, support among African-American voters — an historically socially conservative voting bloc — has dropped by ten percent over the last month.
“The against side has an advantage in terms of tv air time and grassroots momentum and for the first time this week I really believe there’s a chance the amendment could fail,” Tom Jensen, director of PPP, told TPM in an email. “I never would have thought that until now.”
He added: “I think opponents of the amendment should be very encouraged and if they do every little thing they can in the final days to make sure voters are informed the potential for a seismic upset is there.”
The “against side” Jensen alluded to is the Coalition to Protect NC Families, the organization powering the opposition campaign. On Monday, the coalition debuted its first two television ads with the intention of purchasing more air time before the May 8 vote. One ad features a mother who expresses fear over her daughter potentially losing health insurance benefits if Amendment One passes, while the other spot centers around a victim of domestic violence who explains how passage of the amendment could preclude her from legal protections against her former significant other. Both ads encapsulate the opposition campaign’s central message: the amendment would yield sweeping implications. Jeremy Kennedy, campaign manager for the Coalition to Protect NC Families, told TPM that he has tirelessly stressed that point to voters.
“We have found that our message moves people, that they are concerned about the far-reaching consequences of this amendment,” Kennedy said. “These messages get us within striking distance of victory here.”
Misconceptions have frustrated opponents ever since the measure was approved by the Republican-controlled general assembly last fall. PPP has consistently found that large percentages of North Carolinians are unaware of what ultimate passage of the amendment would actually mean. Many believe that it would simply outlaw same-sex marriage, unaware that it would also deny legal recognition to all civil unions and domestic partnerships. Kennedy said the campaign has emphasized that gay marriage — already illegal under North Carolina law — will be unaffected by either outcome.
“What the other side says is that it’s just about marriage and protecting marriage, but what we’ve been saying all along is that it’s about much more than marriage,” Kennedy said. “Why would we be so irresponsible to amend our constitution in a way that would strip families of benefits and domestic violence protections?”
Vote for Marriage NC, the coalition behind the pro-amendment campaign, did not respond to TPM’s request for comment.
Despite the encouraging developments, Kennedy has tempered his expectations. “We’re still the underdogs in this race,” he said. Still, he takes solace in the outcome of the 2011 “personhood” amendment in Mississippi, where polls continually showed robust support for the measure in the months leading up to the statewide vote. Opponents there made steady inroads and on election day voters overwhelmingly rejected the amendment, which would have made Mississippi the first state to define a fertilized egg as a person. Kennedy believes the debate over Amendment One has followed a similar trajectory.
The anti-amendment campaign may also be bolstered by reduced interest in North Carolina’s Republican presidential primary, which will be held on the same day. Not only has Mitt Romney sewn up his party’s nomination, but Rick Santorum — arguably the most passionate culture warrior in the GOP — ended his presidential bid. After Santorum suspended his campaign earlier this month, Jensen told TPM at the time that the former Pennsylvania senator’s absence in the race would likely have a negligible effect on Amendment One. That was when the amendment appeared to be a lock to pass, which now feels like an eternity ago.
Tom Kludt is a newswriter for TPM. A former research intern and polling fellow for TPM, he lives and works in New York City. Tom graduated summa cum laude from the University of South Dakota in May of 2010 with a B.A. in Political Science and History. He can be reached at Tom (at) talkingpointsmemo.com.