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North Carolina Amendment One Will Probably Pass Because Everyone Is Really Confused About It

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Signs display messages about gay marriage in front of the Devon Park United Methodist Church polling site on Tuesday, May 8, 2012, in Wilmington, N.C. (AP Photo/The Star-News, Ken Blevins)
Signs display messages about gay marriage in front of the Devon Park United Methodist Church polling site on Tuesday, May 8, 2012, in Wilmington, N.C. (AP Photo/The Star-News, Ken Blevins)

On one level, the likely passage of Amendment One, which would enshrine in North Carolina's constitution an amendment that states, "Marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized," isn't particularly surprising. In a 2009 study, "Gay Rights in the States: Public Opinion and Policy Responsiveness," Jeffrey Lax and Justin Phillips -- who broke down the explicit support for marriage equality by age group and by state -- placed North Carolina toward the bottom of the pile, just out of the bottom 10. Significantly, North Carolina was one of just 12 states where voters aged 18-29 had not yet breached the 50 percent line in terms of support for same-sex marriage.

(Above, Rachel Maddow talks about the passage of Amendment 1)

But beyond that, Amendment One's passage seems to be paced by the fact that a lot of voters don't actually seem to know what the Amendment does. North Carolina has already made same-sex marriage illegal, after all. What North Carolinians stand to lose on Tuesday expands those restrictions to outlaw civil unions and domestic partnerships. But in an analysis of a recent Public Policy Polling effort on Amendment One, Nate Silver points out that these facts appear to be largely lost on a sizeable portion of the electorate:

The Public Policy Polling survey found widespread voter confusion about what North Carolina’s Amendment 1 seeks to accomplish. Just 36 percent of voters answered correctly that it bans both same-sex marriage and domestic partnerships. An additional 26 percent thought it banned same-sex marriage alone. Meanwhile, 10 percent of voters thought a “yes” vote on the amendment would legalize rather than ban same-sex marriage, and 27 percent weren’t sure what it did.

And Public Policy Polling includes a fun fact about that portion of voters who "weren't sure what it did": Among "voters who admit they don't actually know what the amendment does ... it leads by a 64-28 margin."

Every long-timeline trend indicates that opposition to marriage equality is well into its twilight -- the simplest way of putting it is that most of its opponents are closer to dying than those who favor it. But the lesson from North Carolina is that a slightly more serious voter education effort could speed up this process.

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