A new poll, conducted by a Democratic and Republican polling firm in partnership with George Washington University, suggests voters would be overwhelmingly more likely to go to the polls if they could vote on a ballot measure to legalize marijuana, something Democrats may want to keep in mind as they work to boost turnout.
Facing a tough map and perennial low turnout in midterms, Democrats are hoping to minimize losses in this year's elections by enticing their voters to the polls in any way possible, which in some states includes marijuana liberalization. At least six states are expected to have marijuana questions on the ballot this year.
Colorado and Washington, which each had referenda to legalize the drug on the ballot in 2012, saw the youth share of the vote jump between 5 and 12 percentage points that year over 2008, even as it increased only marginally nationwide.
The GW Battleground Poll of likely voters, conducted by the Tarrance Group and Lake Research Partners, asked voters how much more or less likely they would be to go to the polls "if there was a proposal on the ballot to legalize the use of marijuana."
The top response: "Much more likely," an option selected by 39 percent of respondents. The next most popular choice was "somewhat more likely," which garnered 30 percent of responses. Just 13 percent said they'd be somewhat or much less likely to vote, and 16 percent said it would make no difference.
Together, when rounded, that suggests that 68 percent of likely voters would be more likely to go to the polls if they could vote on a measure to legalize pot.
A breakdown of the numbers provided to National Journal shows liberals are more enthusiastic than moderates or conservatives, with 76 percent saying they would be more likely to vote if marijuana legalization were on the ballot, compared with 64 percent of conservatives and 61 percent of moderates.
"These numbers provide even more evidence that marijuana reform is a mainstream issue and that smart politicians would do well to start treating it as such," says Tom Angell, the founder of the pro-legalization group Marijuana Majority. "More politicians might want to find reasons to start saying good things about this issue."
Of course, some of those who are eager to vote on pot may be keen to cast a ballot against legal weed. The GW poll and other national surveys show the public is generally in favor liberalization of marijuana laws.
Another caveat, as Karyn Bruggeman has noted: While it worked in Colorado and Washington in 2012, a legalization referendum didn't seem to help drive youth or liberal turnout in California in 2010. And medical marijuana, as opposed to full legalization, doesn't seem to have any stimulative effect on youth turnout.
Indeed, the age breakdown on the GW poll found that voters between the ages of 45 and 64 were the most likely to express a strong preference for voting on a legalization ballot measure, although the overall numbers saying they were more likely to vote were roughly even across age ranges, except for those over 65.
Besides, it's probably too late for marijuana to help this year, barring some major last-ditch effort to add ballot measures in more states before November. But 2016 might be a different story.
The GW poll surveyed 1,000 registered "likely" voters between March 16 and 20, and had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.