Legal Marijuana Is Incredibly Popular With Marginal Voters

Sean McElwee (@SeanMcElwee)

Get the data here.

Marijuana legalization is gaining momentum within the Democratic Party, with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer endorsing decriminalization, Dianne Feinstein primary challenger Kevin de Leon announcing his support for Cory Booker’s legalization bill and an increasing number on red state candidates seeing the issue as a way to partially ameliorate the opioid crisis. In our report, Future of the Party, we made the case that politicians were behind the curve, and even among young Republicans support for legalization is greater than opposition.

Here, I took a look at the possibility that marijuana legalization could energize marginal voters and that marijuana advocates might benefit from focusing on bringing marginal voters into the electorate. I used the American National Election Studies 2016 survey, which includes the following question: “Do you favor, oppose, or neither favor nor oppose the use of marijuana being legal?”

ANES includes a validated vote measure for each national federal election from 2012 to 2016. Individuals who voted in none of those elections I categorize as “non-voters,” individuals who voted in one or two I categorize as “marginal voters” and individuals who voted in all three I call “consistent voters.” For all analysis below, individuals who were ineligible to vote in 2012 are excluded.

As the chart below shows, non-voters and marginal voters overwhelmingly support legalizing marijuana, while consistent voters on net oppose it. While there are often policy divides between consistent voters and marginal voters, the divides on the issue of marijuana legalization are quite dramatic. This suggests that marijuana legalization advocates would benefit from focusing on turnout and mobilization.


I also examined support for marijuana legalization among Democrats by voter status. Here again, I find that inconsistent Democratic voters are more likely to support marijuana legalization. As Democrats work to mobilize the missing Obama millions, marijuana legalization presents one issue that would appeal to these marginal voters.


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