How high will the turnout be for the August 19th primary in Alaska?

Marijuana legalization on the August 19th primary ballot in Alaska could be the most interesting natural political science experiment of this cycle. It should provide a unique test case for the power of marijuana legalization to motivate young people to vote.

There is a huge generational divide on marijuana legalization in all national and local polling. Young voters overwhelmingly support it but senior citizens tend to oppose it. For example, PPP found in Alaska marijuana legalization is backed by 72 percent of voters under 30 but a majority of voters over 65 oppose it.

The problem is that young people tend to be infrequent voters. The less high profile the election is the older the turnout tends to skew, and a primary election in a non-presidential year is about as low profile as they come. And it’s especially true here since Alaska uses a closed primary for partisan contests. This is why marijuana legalization campaigns focus on presidential general election ballots where youth turnout is strongest.

In 2012, though, there were some strong indications that legalization was actually able to drive youth turnout. Both Washington State and Colorado had significantly large increases in young voters compared with the rest of the country. It is possible marijuana legalization was even better at getting young people to vote than a presidential contest.

That hypothesis will be put to the test this August. There is not much on that ballot that would tend to drive youth turnout, beside perhaps a minimum wage measure, so if there is a large youth vote it will likely be attributed to marijuana legalization. We will soon see if marijuana legalization on its own can bring young people to the polls.

Jon Walker is the author of After Legalization: Understanding the future of marijuana policy

Photo by RachelF2SEA, used under Creative Commons license