The Public Policy Institute of California is out with their post election survey, and among the many issues they focus on is why Californians voted for or against Proposition 19, the initiative that would have legalized marijuana. This measure failed last month by a seven points, with 46.5% voting yes and 53.5% voting no.
According to the poll, Republicans were a main cause of Prop 19 failure. Only 27% of the Republicans who voted this year cast their ballot for Prop 19, while 73% voted against the measure. Democrats and independents supported the measure at near identical rates, 56% of Democrats and 55% of independents voted yes. This shows that at least some of Prop 19′s problems came down to bad timing. This 2010 midterm election had unusually high turnout among Republicans.
Most interesting, this poll provides an answer to why many voted against Prop 19:
The top reason given for voting yes on the measure, in an open-ended question, is that it would have allowed for the taxation of marijuana (29%). Yes-voters also say that marijuana use is a personal issue or not a big deal (12%), that it would have freed up the police/courts to do other things (11%), or that it would lead to less crime and drug violence (10%). Among no-voters, the top reasons given for opposition are that drugs should be illegal (33%), and that legalization is not good for the state (12%). Fewer cite child safety (8%), the potential conflict with federal law (7%), or that the initiative was poorly written (7%).
Having 7% vote no because they felt the initiative was poorly written was clearly very damaging to the campaign given that those voter were potentially persuadable and the fact that the measure in the end only lost by seven points.
The poll found that specific problems with the ballot measure itself, as opposed to the general idea marijuana legalization, likely cost Prop 19 important votes. While the measure failed 46.5% to 53.5%, the poll found the voters were evenly split 49%-49% on whether, in general, they think marijuana should be legal.
The data indicates the ultimate loss of Prop 19 was likely due to three factors: bad timing, failure of campaign messaging, and measure design issues.
With a few changes, Proposition 19 could likely have been drafted in a better manner from a purely politically perspective. I also feel the campaign didn’t do a sufficient job of pushing back against some of the opposition’s rather ridiculous attacks about the initiative’s design. While these issues likely cost the measure several points, the importance of the national trend of the election shouldn’t be ignored. It was just bad luck to have a measure oppose by 74% of Republicans on the ballot in an election with unusually high Republican turnout.
Overall, the poll is decent news for the marijuana reform movement going forward. With a ballot initiative that has a better design from a political perspective, a more nimble campaign prepared to respond quickkly to attacks on technical issues, and an election with a friendly turnout demographic; it is easy to picture how a marijuana legalization initiative in California could pass with a modest majority.