The Pot Vote
October 11, 2010 1 Comment
Matt McDermott, Columnist
Yes, this article is about marijuana. Never in a million years did I expect, or likewise hope, I’d ever write a politically motivated article thematically based on the psychological effects of marijuana, but here it could not seem more appropriate. While it seems the “use” of the drug probably would be more appropriate to calm Democrats of their impending electoral losses come November, some strategists honestly are considering its legalization for boosting turnout.
I’m talking about Proposition 19 in California, effectively legalizing most forms of marijuana-related activities and allowing the government to regulate and tax its usage. If passed, the law would allow persons over the age of 21 to possess one ounce of marijuana for personal consumption and allow its use in non-public places.
Great, California tries to pass socially liberal, outside the box ballot initiatives all the time—what makes this special? Well this year, as no shock to any political enthusiasts, California is home to contentious Senate and Gubernatorial races. The idea of using voter initiatives as a Get Out The Vote mechanism is rather straightforward and not unique to Democrats. In fact, one could say this move is based off the 2004 Republican ballot drives to ban gay marriage constitutionally in nearly a dozen states. Socially contentious issues draw voters to the polls, and while the turnout effects of ballot initiatives remain debated, the trend certainly is apparent.
But it can’t be that easy to get youth to the polls—can it? Especially in this Midterm Election, during which youth enthusiasm has shrunk and Democrats reasonably are concerned their base will stay home on Election Day.
Amazingly, youth voters really may help save Barbara Boxer’s Senate seat and wash Jerry Brown into the Governor’s mansion. In the latest SurveyUSA poll taken earlier this week, voters were in favor of approving Prop 19 by a 48-41 percent margin. Among, 18-34 year-olds, those numbers exploded to a 61-30 percent advantage. And per SurveyUSA’s proportions, this younger demographic is expected to make up 18 percent or so of the electorate, on par with those over the age of 65. In a midterm election in which the Democratic base is expected to find itself enthusiastically challenged by the right, it seems California is bucking the trend. Youth voters seem unusually engaged and ready to vote—and to vote Democratic. In the same poll addressed above, both Barbara Boxer and Jerry Brown have a nearly 10-point advantage over their challengers.
Similarly in a PPIC poll released last week, 52 percent of California voters approve of Prop 19, with strong backing from both Democrats and Independents. Among 18-34 year-olds, an astounding 70 percent of voters plan to vote yes on the ballot initiative. And perhaps most interesting, half of voters consider the outcome of the vote on Proposition 19 to be “very important.” It seems, as Public Policy Polling pointed out recently, that the initiative might very well “stifle the enthusiasm gap Democrats are dealing with in most other states, particularly when it comes to intended turnout from young voters.” PPP notes that voter turnout in California will be around 11 percent for those under 30, three to four percent higher than other battleground states this year.
As absurd as such a GOTV technique would seem, the surprise within the Democratic Party has already made it into the pages of the Wall Street Journal. Analysts are noting a “coattail effect” with the measure, boosting Democrats in the state as enthusiasm for Prop 19 grows. It notes:
Anna Greenberg, a Democratic pollster, conducted a survey in late August to test the effect of the California measure on voter turnout. In her poll, a quarter of Democrats said they were “extremely interested” in voting in this year’s elections for governor and senator. When told about the marijuana measure, the number jumped to 38%, she said. She found no effect on Republican turnout.
Indeed it seems that there could be practical implications for such a ballot initiative in other states during future election years. With most contested races this year coming down to sheer voter outreach and GOTV strategies, energizing an additional 2-4 percent of youth voters to the polls may be enough to tip scales for Democrats; this year in California, and elsewhere down the line.