Pot Politics in 2010

Joshua Green at The Atlantic writes about the impact that marijuana legalization initiatives will have on partisan races:

I have a short piece in the current Atlantic about the marijuana ballot initiatives sweeping the country. (Paul Starobin also has an excellent cover story in National Journal.) But one issue nobody has examined is what effect these initiatives have on candidates’ performance at the polls. Acting on a tip from an Obama official, I found a few Democratic consultants who have become convinced that ballot initiatives legalizing marijuana, like the one Californians will vote on in November, actually help Democrats in the same way that gay marriage bans were supposed to have helped Republicans. They are similarly popular, with medical marijuana having passed in 14 states (and the District of Columbia) where it has appeared on the ballot. In a recent poll, 56 percent of Californians said they favor the upcoming initiative to legalize and tax pot.

The idea that this helps Democrats is based on the demographic profile of who shows up to vote for marijuana initiatives–and wouldn’t show up otherwise. “If you look at who turns out to vote for marijuana,” says Jim Merlino, a consultant in Colorado, which passed initiatives in 2000 and 2006, “they’re generally under 35. And young people tend to vote Democratic.” This influx of new voters, he believes, helps Democrats up and down the ticket.

I think it’s hard to argue with that. Younger people today are voting overwhelmingly for Democrats, so if you have an initiative that motivates more young people to vote, Democrats on the ballot will get a boost. But in California, where Proposition 19 will be voted on this fall, the picture may not be so clear.

The reason is because both Barbara Boxer and Jerry Brown, the two Democrats running for statewide offices this year, both came out against the initiative. And they didn’t just check some checkbox somewhere saying that they were against it. They went full-on drug warrior with their public statements.

Boxer’s campaign put out a statement saying that it would lead to an increase in crime, and that law enforcement costs would go up. Just to underscore how ludicrous that statement is, the official ballot argument for Proposition 19 was signed by a former police chief, a former deputy chief, and a former judge.

Jerry Brown put out an even more ridiculous statement in opposition to Proposition 19 saying that it would open the floodgates for Mexican drug cartels. Jon Walker does an excellent job here drawing the parallels to alcohol prohibition and explaining why Brown’s statement makes absolutely no sense.

The recent polling for both Boxer and Brown hasn’t been good. Brown is trailing Meg Whitman in the Governor’s race. And in recent months, Boxer’s favorability numbers have taken a hit and she’s in a dead heat with Carly Fiorina. Her decline probably has a series of factors, but her opposition to the marijuana initiative is likely playing some non-trivial role in it.

I feel confident in saying that for two reasons. One, it’s an issue that puts her in direct opposition to her base (69% of self-described liberals support it according to the latest Survey USA poll). And two, I tend to think that while very few voters consider marijuana to be a major issue, a lot more of them have a strong enough opinion about the issue (and understand it well enough) for it to play into their overall perceptions of how the candidates would deal with issues more pressing, like the economy or health care. Boxer is being painted as an out-of-touch DC insider who caters to government interests. Her position on marijuana just plays right into that stereotype.

So how is this going to end up? Will the benefits to California’s big ticket Democrats from additional young voter participation due to Proposition 19 be counteracted by both Boxer’s and Brown’s laughable public stances on it? Someone with more time and resources than me could potentially put together some good poll questions to explore that, or to do some statistical analysis from existing polls. But what’s clear is that even if Democratic consultants see the benefit of having marijuana initiatives on the ballot, they apparently still don’t see the benefit of actually endorsing them.

UPDATE: Here’s an interesting report in the San Francisco Chronicle about Boxer and her polling woes:

Boxer’s slight numerical lead masks potentially serious problems for the senator, starting with how 52 percent of the respondents hold an unfavorable view of her.

At the same time, her job approval rating is among the lowest that Field has measured for her since she was first elected to the Senate in 1992: 43 percent of registered voters disapprove of her performance while 42 percent approve. Among likely voters, 48 percent disapprove and 42 percent approve.

“It’s a reflection of the effectiveness of a Republican strategy to characterize Sen. Boxer as everything that’s wrong with the government,” said Larry Berman, a professor of political science at UC Davis. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., another longtime Democrat facing a tough re-election challenge, faces a similar predicament, Berman said.

As I mentioned above, the job of characterizing Senator Boxer as “everything that’s wrong with the government” becomes a lot easier when Boxer herself takes a position on the marijuana initiative that large numbers of both her base and independents understand as being “something that’s wrong with the government”.


  1. 1

    KPhil spews:

    We have a two-party system: On the one hand, the Psychopathic Fascist party; on the other, its counterpart, the Useless Mumblefuck party.

    Whitman and Fiorina: Psychopathic Fascists.

    Brown and Boxer: Useless Mumblefucks.

  2. 2

    righton spews:

    Lee, you are so doped up as to think Boxer is missing out on the pro dope voters…? so a dope grower up in mendocino is going to vote GOP…..i think you are so blinded by your love for dope as to miss some political realities..

  3. 3


    It’s not that her base will vote GOP – it’s just that they won’t vote. The same thing is likely with Obama – he’s dissapointed a large enough percentage of his base that he won’t have momentum.

  4. 5


    Pro 19 folks will vote but leave Boxer’s box blank. They’ll do everything they can to get the initiative passed and do nothing to get her elected.

    Yes, its playing russian roulette with the balance in the Senate but there has to be a line. At the risk of sounding snarky, a lot of folks would rather roll a fatty legally than maintain the Democratic majority in the Senate.

    Besides, if the GOP took over – who would notice any change?

  5. 8


    so a dope grower up in mendocino is going to vote GOP

    Wow, you need to get out more. A lot of those folks are Ron Paul Republicans.

  6. 9

    Kirk Prindle spews:

    Thanks for a great article, Lee. (And thanks to Howieinseattle for re-posting.)

    Kirk Prindle

  7. 10

    mikek spews:

    Yes, Democrats in states such as WA, OR, CO, or CA should embrace a rational approach to cannabis, which means to legalize and regulate. They seem like such old farts, and out of touch with reality on this issue to young voters, and people like me, a 50 something pot smoking professional. They’re shooting themselves in the foot.

  8. 12


    This comment was deleted because of this attempt to intentionally distort what I’m saying:

    What Lee is saying here is that legalization of pot is more important than corporate reform, healthcare, supreme court, the wars ,,,,, all the other CORE issues motivating dems?

    And no, I don’t care that there’s a question mark at the end. SJ, if you want to keep posting comments in this thread, you have to make it clear that you understand my post first. As I’ve warned you numerous times before, you’re not allowed to pull this bullshit in my comment threads (and Goldy has given me the green light to delete your comments whenever you do).