Poll: 68 Percent More Likely to Turn Out If Measure to Legalize Pot Is on the Ballot

In their quest to get their base to the polls, Democrats may want to consider marijuana.

Drug of choice?
National Journal
Alex Seitz Wald
Add to Briefcase
Alex Seitz-Wald
March 25, 2014, 10:50 a.m.

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.

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