Wednesday, April 23, 2014 · 10:37 a.m.
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A majority of Chattanooga voters oppose an ordinance extending health benefits to the domestic partners of city employees, a new Nooga.com poll shows.

Fifty-three percent of registered city voters oppose the ordinance, while almost 37 percent support it, according to the survey conducted by Multi-Quest, a Louisiana-based polling firm. 

The results suggest a built-in advantage for opponents when the issue goes to a referendum in August.

The poll shows strong Republican opposition, but only tepid support amongst Democrats. More than 78 percent of GOP voters are against the ordinance. About 51 percent of Democratic voters support it. Independents are split with 43 percent in favor and 46 percent against.

The past two August elections saw higher GOP turnout at city precincts, records show, but that is due partly to heavily contested primaries on top-of-ticket races.

Other than Democrats, no demographic group favors the ordinance, the poll shows. Supporters will face difficulty turning out consistent voting blocks to uphold the legislation.

"I don’t know where the people in favor of this find a natural constituency," pollster John Grimm said. "Right now, it’s a 59-41 race among people who have made up their minds."

In addition to domestic partnership benefits, the ordinance added sexual orientation to the city’s nondiscrimination policy. The poll reflects both of the ordinance’s components.

The poll’s question was based on language approved by the election commission for a recent petition drive. It asked, "Do you favor or oppose the city of Chattanooga providing for the extension of benefits in domestic partnerships and adding sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression to the city’s nondiscrimination policy?"

The City Council passed the Extended Benefits and Non-Discrimination Ordinance in a tight November vote after months of divided public debate. Five Democrats on the council backed the legislation, as did the city’s Democratic mayor. Three Republican council members and one Democrat voted against it.

Upon passage, Chattanooga was poised to become the third Tennessee city to extend employee benefits to couples in same-sex and opposite-sex domestic partnerships. But the victory for supporters was short-lived.

A conservative political action committee quickly mounted a successful petition drive, blocking implementation. The PAC gathered more than 7,000 verified signatures in two weeks’ time. As a result, voters will decide the ordinance's fate in August.

"The city voted last night to pass this ordinance, and we feel that it’s not reflective of the community," said Mark West, president of Citizens for Government Accountability and Transparency, the day the PAC began collecting signatures.

Multi-Quest conducted the survey by telephone from Dec. 11-18, 2013, among 401 registered voters in Hamilton County. Survey respondents were contacted by landline and cellphone. The margin of error is plus or minus 6 percent.

This article relies on a subgroup of the overall survey that consists of 211 registered voters in the city of Chattanooga. The margin of error for this subgroup is 8 percent.

The poll has a lower sample of voters under 40 than other age groups. Younger voters are less likely to respond to telephone surveys and vote in local elections, Grimm said.

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