Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

"‘Cannabis Coattails’ and the challenges of polling in 2016"

VoteforMarijuana1The title of this post is the headline of this new piece by John Hudak at the Brookings FixGov website.  I recommend the piece is full for all political junkies, and here are excerpts: 

Much attention has been paid to the fact that several states are voting on marijuana initiatives this November. Five states—Arizona, California, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada—will vote on recreational legalization. Four more states—Arkansas, Florida, Montana, and North Dakota—will have medical marijuana on their ballots. In many places, polling is tight and there are no sure bets on passage (not even in the Golden State).

The presence of these initiatives on ballots is important in and of itself, and passage would mean tremendous drug policy changes in any state that votes to approve its initiative, but they could also have significant ripple effects on other elements of this year’s election. How might the ballot initiatives affect voter turnout, the outcomes of other races, or the accuracy of polling in these states?...

From a policy perspective, differences between medical marijuana and recreational marijuana are significant.  Medical markets are smaller, access to the product is more limited, and overall public support is higher for medical marijuana.  That broader support also makes it harder to identify concrete and significant differences of opinion across demographic groups.  For recreational marijuana, where support nationwide stands at around 60 percent divisions exist and they are significant.  We know that Democrats support legalization at higher rates than do Republicans (and about the same as Independents).  Men support legalization at higher rates than women.  We also know that the younger you are, the more likely you are to support legalization.  For instance, voters under the age of 30 support legalization at around 80 percent, while fewer than four-in-ten voters 65 and older support it....

For medical, it makes sense that differences are muted because overall support is higher.  What adds to that trend is the product’s broader consumer base.  While there are plenty of young medical marijuana patients in states that have passed reform, it is not necessarily a “young person” issue.  Patients who swear by the therapeutic benefits of marijuana span age groups and, in fact, many qualifying conditions disproportionately affect voters aged 30 and over — think MS, ALS, arthritis, cancer, etc. Similarly, you don’t have to be young to be convinced by a relative or friend that medical marijuana is helping them.  For voters of all ages, seeing is believing.

Having recreational marijuana on the ballot matters for more than just these initiatives in and of themselves.  Advocates put the initiatives on the ballot in even numbered years — especially presidential election years because turnout is significantly higher.  However, there is some evidence from 2012 that marijuana initiatives have coattails, too. Those coattails have meaningful effects up and down the ballot....  As I have written previously the 2012 initiatives in Colorado and Washington had unique impacts on turnout in those states....  Marijuana legalization impacted who turned out in 2012 and we should believe it may have similar effects in 2016.

It is no secret that when liberals turn out and younger voters turn out, it helps Democrats, ... [and] legalization initiatives have [had] a clear Democratic benefit.  Reform supporters and those behind ballot initiatives strategically time measures to happen during presidential years in order to capitalize on the increased turnout.  Yet, we know that the initiatives themselves can dramatically transform turnout and can have significant effects on other races as well.

With five recreational legalization initiatives on the ballot this year, what might it mean for the election generally?  First, there is a clear Democratic benefit to these initiatives.  In some states that may not matter, though. California and Massachusetts have ballot measures but they are not competitive in the presidential election and California’s Senate race is not competitive.  In Maine, Arizona, and Nevada, however, there are competitive presidential contests.  In the latter two, there are also competitive Senate races.  Even though none of the candidates have embraced legalization, Hillary Clinton and Democrats across those ballots may see a bump because of changes in turnout.  Democratic-leaning voters, who otherwise might have stayed home, could turn out to vote on marijuana reform.  Some may leave other parts of the ballot blank, but Democrats could see a meaningful benefit overall.  In a race that is close, a few thousand votes here or there could force an incumbent Republican Senator to pack up his office or shift a state’s electoral votes from red to blue....

If turnout among those under the age of 30 and among self-described liberals explodes in those five states [voting on reform initiatives], it could transform the outcome of many other races.  It may also mean that the actual effect of Cannabis Coattails could lead pollsters to underestimate both support for Democrats and the support for the initiatives themselves.  This really is not the fault of pollsters; it is a problem that stems from a lack of data. However, 2016 will provide additional data on the effect of marijuana initiatives on the composition of the electorate and the benefit for Democrats, so that the next time we face a similar situation — and 2020 will almost certainly have more legalization initiatives — pollsters will be better informed when designing poll samples and generating results.

None of this is to say that marijuana legalization initiatives will have a disruptive effect on the election. However, if Nevada’s Democratic Senate candidate, Catherine Cortez Masto, narrowly defeats Joe Heck, or if Arizona’s Ann Kirkpatrick outpaces John McCain, or if Hillary Clinton manages to hold the electoral vote awarded from Maine’s Second Congressional District, it may not be a hard-fought campaign that made the difference. Such wins might occur because cannabis has a coattail effect — and even candidates who oppose legalization may find that marijuana was the medicine their campaign needed.

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/marijuana_law/2016/11/cannabis-coattails-and-the-challenges-of-polling-in-2016.html

Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Initiative reforms in states, Political perspective on reforms, Polling data and results, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink

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