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Originally published: 2013-04-19 17:29:12
Last modified: 2013-04-19 18:11:49

Hagan polls change little after stand for same-sex marriage

by Anna Oakes

U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan's approval numbers have not changed significantly since her announcement last month supporting same-sex marriage, but it's too early to tell how vulnerable her 2014 re-election bid will be, pollsters say.

Hagan, a Democrat, was among more than a dozen senators to publicly state support for same-sex marriage during the past month, reversing past statements of position on the issue. Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments challenging the constitutionality of the federal Defense of Marriage Act and California's Proposition 8.

"After conversations I've had with family members, with people I go to church with and with North Carolinians from all walks of life, I've come to my own personal conclusion that we should not tell people who they can love or who they can marry," Hagan told the Raleigh News & Observer.

Some analysts have questioned the move, wondering if it could hamper Hagan's 2014 re-election chances in a state that passed a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage by a 61-39 percent margin last year.

But surveys indicate that Americans' opinions on same-sex marriage are rapidly evolving --even since that May 2012 referendum.

The Elon University Poll survey of North Carolina residents earlier this month found that 46 percent of respondents oppose same-sex marriage, 43 percent support it and 10.5 percent are undecided.

Last month, Pew Research looked at several recent polls and concluded that all major national polls now find more supporters than opponents of same-sex marriage.

A Public Policy Polling survey this month found 39 percent of North Carolinians approve of Hagan's job performance while 37 percent disapprove, which is similar to a 42-39 percent spread a month ago.

Dustin Ingalls, assistant director of Public Policy Polling -- which media often cite as being left leaning -- said he didn't think Hagan's support of same-sex marriage would have "much of any impact at all" on her re-election chances.

"The president made his announcement (supporting gay marriage) last May, and he still did very well in the state (in the general election)," Ingalls said. "I don't think it will be a top concern in midterm elections."

The poll also found that Hagan currently leads a number of potential Republican challengers for her seat, including N.C. Labor Commissioner Cherie Berry, N.C. Speaker of the House Thom Tillis, N.C. Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger and U.S. Rep. Virginia Foxx.

But that could easily change, noted Kenneth Fernandez, director of the Elon Poll.

Elon's recent survey found 40 percent approval and 33 percent disapproval with Hagan among state residents, compared with 39 percent approval and 26 percent disapproval for her Republican counterpart, Sen. Richard Burr.

"These numbers have some meaning, but because we're so far off (from the midterm election), you can't read too much into that," Fernandez said.

Currently, state voters are more interested in the General Assembly, Gov. Pat McCrory and President Barack Obama, he said.

If the president and Hagan's approval ratings begin to decline, that could open the door for strong Republican challengers, he said.

"You do still see Hagan's name mentioned in national outlets as someone Republicans are likely to target," he added.

Spokespersons for Burr and Foxx reiterated the lawmakers' continued opposition to same-sex marriage and support for state powers to set marriage policy.

"I believe it is important that we have a uniform definition of marriage for federal law, and I supported the Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as being between men and women," Burr stated through his press office. "However, in our constitutional system, marriage and family law are primarily handled at the state level, and I believe states have the right to define marriage as they choose."

"Congresswoman Foxx's position has not changed," press secretary Ericka Perryman said. "She continues to support traditional marriage and the rights of states to settle the marriage issue for themselves democratically."