“Polls show that there’s a trend toward marijuana legalization, so the energy behind this issue seems to be on the legalization side. So if there are citizens who turn out and vote because of this issue, it’s probably going to favor Democrats”
A record number of legal marijuana could complicate turnout in the 2016 presidential election, bringing out more voters but which candidate will it help the most? The answer is complex.
At first glance, the traditional demographic of marijuana voters – white, young, male, Democratic – would presumably increase votes for Clinton. But with the Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson, having the best chance since Nader to siphon votes away from a mainstream candidate, and the unpredictable loyalty of party-line voters this year, it’s not guaranteed that Clinton will be able to cash in on the momentum of marijuana.
“Polls show that there’s a trend toward marijuana legalization, so the energy behind this issue seems to be on the legalization side. So if there are citizens who turn out and vote because of this issue, it’s probably going to favor Democrats” said Geoffrey Skelley.
Different voters with different motivations
Celinda Lake of Lake Research Partners, a Democratic polling firm, saidthere are significant numbers of people across the board who are motivated by this issue, but for various reasons.
“African Americans tend to support it from a criminal justice perspective, older whites often come to it from a medical perspective and libertarians see it as a privacy issue, particularly in the west.” Both Clinton and Trump have had trouble wooing Black Lives Matter voters, so showing that they care about the disproportionate arrest of millions of African Americans for marijuana possession could help.
“Trump should hope to be winning those who do embrace medical marijuana in states with old white men group like Florida, Arkansas and Missouri, where medical marijuana is looking to be legalized and expanded while Gary Johnson could steal some votes from him through the young men but neither younger nor older group found Clinton favorable. So higher turnout related to marijuana legalization might hurt Trump”.
“Trump needs to figure out ways to engage with younger voters while Clinton may try to appeal to the white and male voters,” says Michael Berry.
According toRoll Call, Florida voters were faced with a medical marijuana measure in 2014, their numbers increased by 10% from 2010, despite nationwide turnout being the lowest in 70 years. (With 57%, the 2014 measure still failed due to the state’s requirement of 60%)
Nevada currently has one of the highest concentrations of marijuana users in the nation, so it’s likely that a measure to legalize marijuana could bring out extra voters there as well.
Courting the marijuana vote
Millennials target for marijuana campaigns was 71% in favor of ending prohibition compared with 58% nationally. So in states proposing full legalization like Arizona, California, Massachusetts, Maine and Nevada, showing support for marijuana reform could bolster a candidate’s numbers by a few points.
Deciding at Oregon and Colorado in 2012 whether to legalize marijuana makes voters turnout increased by six points in Colorado and five in Oregon. Over the course of the 2016 election, both Trump and Clinton have engaged in some hardcore flirting with marijuana voters.
“Clinton’s strategy of warming to medical marijuana seems to propose a continuation of the status quo, letting it unfold in the states, making her appear more moderate, which makes sense in the general election,” says Berry.
Berry noted: “It seems that there are more political costs to being opposed to marijuana instead of being in favor of it, which is strange because if you go back 10 years ago, it was just the opposite.”
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