In 2012 Colorado voters may have a chance to legalize marijuana, and this can only help President Obama keep Colorado in his column.
According to a PPP poll of Colorado, legalizing marijuana in the state would be a popular measure across party lines. Overall 51% of those polled favor legalization, and 38% oppose. By party 65% of Democrats support legalization, and 62% of Republicans favor keeping it illegal. However, more Republicans support legalization (31%) than Democrats oppose it (24%). Independents are strongly in favor of legalization 55%-31%.
Those who voted for Obama in 2008 support legalization by a margin of 68%-21%. Those who voted for McCain in the state support continuing the drug’s illegal status, 58%-32%. By ideology 82% respondents who considered themselves very liberal supported legalization, and did 68% of somewhat liberals, and 53% of moderates.
Over a third (35%) of those who considered themselves somewhat conservative, and over one quarter (26%) of those who described themselves as very conservative supported legalization. Unlike the same sex marriage question which split the state 45%-45%, there is a broad consensus on the legalizing marijuana.
Some Democratic strategists have long viewed the marijuana legalization issue as one to have the potential to bring younger voters out to the polls. What is particularly interesting about Colorado is that in 2006 voters rejected a measure that would have allowed people over the age of 21 to possess an ounce or less of marijuana without criminal penalty by a margin of 59%-41%. In less than five years, the numbers have flipped.
Media coverage of legalization ballot measures still tends to focus on the Republican narrative of what about the children, but as older Americans have begun to understand the medical value of marijuana opinions are becoming malleable. Even when ballot measures to legalize marijuana fail, Democrats have seen their candidates poll better when marijuana is on the ballot.
If Colorado does put legalization on the ballot in 2012, it will be the first time that the question will be put before voters in a swing state during a presidential election. In 2008 sixty five percent of Massachusetts voters voted to reduce the criminal penalties for marijuana possession. In 2000 and 2004 Alaska voted against decriminalization, but both of these states are heavily blue and red respectively.
For decades Republicans have viewed any stance on drugs other than just say no as heretical. To his or her own party, a Republican nominee can’t be pro-legalization. This sets up an interesting dilemma for the GOP nominee in 2012. Do they alienate a majority of Colorado Independents and over a third of their own party members by taking a hardline stance on legalization? My guess is that the nominee will claim that it is a state issue and try to duck it completely.
The Colorado measure may not swing the state Obama’s way all by itself, but it does have the potential to give voters who aren’t in the just say no today, tomorrow, and forever camp another reason to vote in November. Whether or not Obama helps to pass the measure, or the measure helps to reelect Obama is a chicken and egg argument. The irony is that instead of embracing medical marijuana the Obama administration is moving towards a policy that those who supported him in Colorado, and also favor legalization would disagree with.
Marijuana legalization is not as threatening to fundamentalist and evangelical Republicans as same sex marriage. In 2004, the Bush reelection team was able to use ballot measures banning gay marriage in 10 states to motivate their supporters. It is doubtful that marijuana legalization will have that sort of drastic impact for Democrats in 2012. In the next presidential election, it is looking likely that the extremism of the Republican Party will be on the ballot. If these electoral conditions exist a moderate common sense approach to legalization could provide an incentive for reasonable people to come out to vote. And the more reasonable the electorate is in 2012, the better the results will be for Obama and the Democratic Party.