A majority of North Carolinians are opposed to the constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriages that will be on the May 8 ballot, even as they remain skeptical about gay marriages, according to a new Elon University/Charlotte Observer poll.
Although the rest of the South, often referred to as the Bible Belt, has adopted such a ban, the survey found 54 percent of Tar Heel residents interviewed opposed the constitutional amendment. It found that 38 percent supported it.
Mileah Kay Kromer, the poll's assistant director, cautioned that the results should not be over-interpreted. The survey interviewed a cross-section of all North Carolinians, not just registered voters.
The marriage amendment - or Amendment 1 - will go before voters during the May 8 primary, and the outcome of low-turnout primaries is heavily dependent on which side can rally its supporters to the voting booths - something that cannot be measured in a public opinion poll.
For example, the growing likelihood that North Carolina could still be in play during the Republican presidential primary fight on May 8 could have an impact on the marriage referendum.
A strong showing by former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, who has backing of many social conservatives, could help ease passage. A vigorous Democratic primary for governor, however, could bring out more opponents of the amendment.
But the Elon poll findings also suggest that public opinion may be shifting on the issue, Kromer said.
"Our numbers match up with the nation," Kromer said. "Voters are cooling to the idea of banning same-sex marriages in the constitution."
Several national polls taken last year by Gallup and CNN show a slim majority favor same-sex marriages for the first time. In recent days, Maryland legislators voted to legalize same-sex marriages.
North Carolina law already defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman, but the Republican legislature last year decided it wanted to take the additional step to put the ban in the state constitution. For that to happen, it must first be approved by the voters.
Thirty states have already passed a constitutional amendment defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman. It has passed in every state where it has been put on the ballot.
The results of the Elon University poll, conducted Feb. 26 through March 1, are similar to those taken in an Elon poll taken in September that found that 56 percent oppose the amendment.
A survey conducted for Public Policy Polling, a Democratic-leaning firm based in Raleigh, in January found that 56 percent of registered voters would vote for the amendment and 34 percent would vote against it. That was a shift from October, when 61 percent of voters said they would support the amendment.
While the new Elon survey found public opposition to a constitutional amendment, it did not find majority support for gay marriages.
The Elon poll found that about 32 percent of North Carolina residents oppose any legal recognition of same-sex marriage, 28 percent support civil unions or partnerships for same-sex couples but not full rights, and 36 percent support full marriage rights.
On another issue, the survey found that a majority - 53 percent - support a temporary three-fourth-cent sales tax increase to fund education, while 43 percent oppose it. The Republican legislature last year voted to repeal the temporary tax, but Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue and the major Democratic candidates for governor have all supported re-imposing it.
The public is not happy with the job of the legislature, which was faced with a difficult task of closing a large budget shortfall. Only 27 percent approved of the job the legislature did, while 52.5 percent disapproved.
In the governor's race, only Republican candidate Pat McCrory is known by many Tar Heel residents. McCrory, the former Charlotte mayor who was the GOP nominee for governor in 2008, was viewed favorably by 33 percent of those surveyed, and unfavorably by 14 percent.
The Democratic candidates are all virtually unknown by the public. Former Congressman Bob Etheridge was viewed favorably by 16 percent of the public and unfavorably by 16 percent.
Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton was viewed favorably by 12 percent of the public and unfavorably by 8 percent. State Rep. William Faison of Orange County was viewed favorably by 6 percent and unfavorably by 5 percent.
In presidential politics, none of the GOP hopefuls are particularly well thought of by North Carolinians, according to the Elon Poll.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney had a favorability rating of 35 percent and an unfavorably rating of 49 percent. Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum had a favorable rating of 32 percent and unfavorable rating of 42 percent. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich had a favorability rating of 23 percent and an unfavorable rating of 59 percent. And Texas Rep. Ron Paul had a favorability rating of 33 percent and unfavorable rating of 44 percent.