Final poll gives North Carolina marriage amendment clear advantage

A final poll of likely North Carolina voters conducted over the weekend continues to give a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage and civil unions an easy margin of victory in Tuesday’s election while the Democratic contest for governor is tightening.

The referendum holds a 16-point advantage, 55 percent in favor and 39 percent against, according to the Public Policy Polling survey, a left-leaning Raleigh-based firm. The numbers shifted little in the final week as big-names on either side of the debate – Rev. Billy Graham for and former President Bill Clinton against – made final pleas to persuade voters.

Many voters still don’t understand what the amendment would accomplish, pollster Tom Jensen said, noting that a majority of North Carolinians support some legal recognition for same-sex couples. “Opponents of the amendment had an uphill battle in convincing voters that it was anything other than a referendum on gay marriage, even though it does go a lot further than that” by forbidding civil unions and domestic partnerships, he said.

Jensen, whose firm worked for the anti-amendment campaign, believes the vote could get even more support, possibly as high as 59 percent.The vote brought a half-million people to the polls to vote early, exceeding even the huge jump in voting for the 2008 Democratic presidential primary between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.

In the Democratic gubernatorial race, Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton’s 10-point lead from a week ago whittled down to a 5-point advantage in the final days. The polls showed Dalton getting about 34 percent of the vote and rival Bob Etheridge taking 29 percent. Four other candidates all received 4 percent or less.

Etheridge, a former Congressman, spent the final week the campaign traveling the state meeting voters and looking for media attention while Dalton spent a good bit of time raising money in private fundraisers. Dalton’s financial advantage has allowed him to make a bigger push in TV advertising, which helped fuel his April surge in which he moved from 10 points down to 10 points up.

Jensen did note that “an unusually high 24 percent of voters remain undecided in the closing stretch, speaking to the low-key nature of the contest.”

“If those folks break proportionately to their current support Dalton would win 44-38,” Jensen surmised. “One very positive sign for Dalton’s campaign is that he’s up 44-31 among those who have already voted.”

Further down the statewide ballot, Linda Coleman holds a wide lead in the Democratic lieutenant governor’s race while the GOP contest for the state’s No. 2 post appears headed to a summer runoff election with state Rep. Dale Folwell leading the way. The question is whether Raleigh architect Dan Forest or Wake County Commissioner Tony Gurley will get the second slot.

The poll showed the Republican race for insurance commissioner tightening between Richard Morgan and Mike Causey while Raleigh’s Kenn Gardner is leading the GOP contest for secretary of state.

The margin of error on the overall survey is plus-or-minus 3.1 percentage point and about plus-or-minus 4.4 percentage points for the Democratic and Republican primaries.