The Legislature’s decision this week to place a statewide referendum on a same-sex marriage ban on the same day as the primary will bring out people who don’t otherwise vote in those races, said Wake Forest University political science professor John Dinan.
Republican leaders had earlier sought to set the amendment vote for November 2012. They moved it ahead in part over complaints that the date was designed to bring out voters to boost GOP turnout in the general election for whoever would face Barack Obama in the presidential election and Beverly Perdue in the governor’s race.
Those voters will include Christian conservatives who will be drawn to the polls with their belief a vote for the ban will protect traditional marriage from legal challenges of same-sex couples from other states. When they get to the voting booth they’ll also probably vote in other races. Voters registered as unaffiliated or Republican can also vote in the GOP primary.
There’s good reason to “expect the presence of ballot measure will have an effect on drawing more people to the primary ballot that otherwise wouldn’t otherwise show up in the election,” Dinan said.
North Carolina primary elections historically have been low-turnout affairs, with a range from 16 percent to 30 percent of the registered voters participating in primaries during presidential election years since 1972. The turnout reached 37 percent in 2008, when Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama remained locked in a fierce battle for the Democratic presidential nomination.
A spiked turnout in next year’s primary could have a significant impact on the GOP presidential primary if a nominee hasn’t emerged. But there hasn’t been a contested Republican race this late in North Carolina in at least 30 years. Dinan said turnout could have significant effects upon GOP primaries in legislative and congressional districts redrawn by the General Assembly this year.
The conventional wisdom is candidates labeled as more conservative on social issues compared to an intraparty rival would benefit from increased GOP turnout because churchgoers would be drawn to vote by the gay marriage ban amendment.
All but four Republicans currently serving in the General Assembly voted for the marriage amendment this week. Those four either didn’t vote or had excused absences – so the incumbents will be able to say they voted in support of the hot-button issue.
“If you have a significant contrast emerging than one could imagine the ballot measure could have some effect,” Dinan said. “It injects an issue that candidates who are running are asked about and are almost forced to take a pretty clear position on the measure.”
Former Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory, who is likely to make a repeat run for governor next year after losing in the general election to Perdue in 2008, likely would have benefited from voter turnout a November 2012 referendum would have brought.
He dismissed Friday in an interview any concerns that a May primary referendum could help any potential GOP rival who may be perceived as more socially conservative than him. McCrory said he would vote for the referendum, saying it was better for voters to make the decision on gay marriage rather than courts.
“There are a lot of factors that are just out of your control, and you can only control those things that you can, and that’s what I’m going to do,” McCrory said following a luncheon question-and-answer session at a Wilmington hotel.
Sen. Pete Brunstetter, R-Forsyth, said earlier this week he had considered a bid for governor next year but decided Tuesday not to run. He said his decision was based on largely personal reasons. He said the date of the gay marriage referendum didn’t play a role in his decision.