Posted by: captainfalcon | May 8, 2012

Amendment One and Structuring Direct Democracy

Andrew links to a poll of North Carolina voters indicating the following:

  1. 55% would vote for Amendment One (refusing recognition to gay marriage and same sex civil unions).
  2. 57% think gay marriage should be illegal.
  3. 27% think gays should be allowed to marry and 26% think gays should only be allowed to form civil unions and 43% think there should be no legal recognition of gay couples.
  4. Only 46% think Amendment One bans both gay marriage and civil unions.

From these numbers the pollsters infer that “In some sense North Carolinians are voting against their own beliefs. 53% of voters in the state support either gay marriage or civil unions, yet a majority also support the amendment that would ban both.”

There is another permissible inference. Overall, 69% (heh) of North Carolinians think gay couples should not be allowed to marry (43% who oppose by gay marriage and civil unions + 26% who oppose only gay marriage). If 12% of those who support civil unions but not gay marriage are more avidly opposed to gay marriage than they are supportive of civil unions then 55% in favor of Amendment One makes perfect sense.

The pollsters prefer an explanation grounded in voter ignorance, pointing out that “only 46% of voters realize the proposal bans gay marriage and civil unions” and noting that “informed voters oppose the amendment by a 61-37 margin.” On the other hand, only 44% of hypothetical informed voters would vote no on Amendment One if they knew it banned both gay marriage and civil unions, leaving 39% in favor of Amendment One and 16% undecided. There was no option “conflicted,” so no way to further parse the 16% to see which are really in favor of the Amendment, but regretfully so; and which are legitimately unsure. But it is a tantalizing possibility that the 16% are actually conflicted — that “unsure” is where the conflicted went — thereby yielding 55% in favor of Amendment One.

Bracketing the general desirability of initiatives legislatively referred referenda from the point of view of political theory (they are a bad idea), the real lesson here is that the so-called “single subject rule” — which requires that if an initiative question asks multiple sub-questions they all must pertain to the same subject matter (so no omnibus initiatives) — is not stringent enough to ensure that each norm of law an initiative selects is actually approved by a majority of voters. This is a travesty even (especially!) on the assumptions of those weirdos who support direct democracy. In this case, it also happens to be a human travesty.

Update: Although I’m inclined to think this reaction is a bit hyperbolic. Yes it’s deeply regrettable that the abstraction known as North Carolina is about to make economic planning harder for gay people as a result of its inchoate homophobia, but surely life goes on, particularly in the enclaves of academe? A little perspective here, please. This is not Jim Crow; this is not Kristallnacht; and it is merely a reminder, not a cause, of the horrendous incidence of teen gay suicide. And I say all this as somebody for whom gay marriage is the only political issue that is not just interesting to think about, but can actually get the blood up.



  1. […] posts back, I argued that it is reasonable to interpret North Carolina polling data as indicating that a majority of […]

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