Thursday, June 11, 2009

Special Interests and the General Assembly

There's not much doubt the religious right wields a lot of clout at the General Assembly. Last year it killed a school bullying bill, and this year it has had success in weakening a bill that would have given parents the choice to have their children receive comprehensive sex education.

They get stuff done- and perhaps more accurately keep things from happening- because they're very good at mobilizing their members and creating an illusion that they pack some punch at the ballot box and could really cause some trouble in the next election.

They're also a very distinct minority, and in fact most North Carolinians have a negative view of them and their ability to influence legislation. We conducted a poll earlier this week and asked voters whether they would be more or likely to vote for a candidate endorsed by a right wing religious organization. 43% of respondents said they would be less likely to do with 32% saying they would be more likely to. They are a particular turn off to the moderate voters who often decide North Carolina elections, with 55% of them saying they'd be less inclined to support a candidate endorsed by the religious right.

Voters are even less sympathetic to elected officials who choose to alter legislation based on push back from conservative religious groups. 63% said they would be less likely to vote for someone who changed a bill because of pressure from right wing Christian groups with just 22% saying that would make them more inclined to support someone.

Our polling showed levels of support around 70% statewide for both the bullying and sex education proposals but the squeaky minority frequently continues to frequently win out. What is particularly ironic is that it is often Democratic legislators who give into this pressure despite the fact that it is mostly coming from Republicans who would never vote for them anyway. While 58% of Republicans say they'd be more likely to vote for a candidate endorsed by a right wing religious group, only 11% of Democrats and 20% of independents do. So really what Democrats are doing is risking turning off their base to please a group of voters that is not likely to ever support them at the polls.

What are the takeaways?

1) Progressive voters really do need to do a better job of making their voices heard by bombarding legislative offices with e-mails, calls, and letters in the same quantities that have made the right wing so effective.

2) Legislators need to do a better job of taking a step back and realizing that just because they hear from 100 constituents on an issue, that doesn't mean it's what the majority of their voters think, and that they have an obligation to consider the wishes of all those they represent and not just the 99th percentile of them who make the most noise. In fact we have polled on these issues in a good number of 'swing' districts across North Carolina and have found that they are popular across the board- scientific polling might not be as 'in your face' as some of the communication with melodramatic rhetoric that officials receive on these issues, but it is a much better gauge of true public opinion.

Full results of the poll here

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