Marijuana Legalization Support at Record High
While a majority still supports criminalization, more Americans than ever think marijuana should be legal, according the latest Gallup survey. Lydia Saad (a family friend) provides the analysis:
Gallup’s October Crime poll finds 44% of Americans in favor of making marijuana legal and 54% opposed. U.S. public support for legalizing marijuana was fixed in the 25% range from the late 1970s to the mid-1990s, but acceptance jumped to 31% in 2000 and has continued to grow throughout this decade.
The question wording is interesting here. It would be cleaner and less confusing to ask “Do you think the use of marijuana should be illegal?” But, since marijuana use is and has been illegal, one can understand the negative wording. Also, they’ve been asking the question the same way over time, which at least allows untainted comparison over time. We’ve seen a thirty point drop in the number thinking it should be illegal over the past 40 years and a 32 point rise in those thinking it should be legal. And, allowing for a +/-3 margin of error, the trend has been rather steady.
The highest level of support for decriminalizing the use of marijuana today is seen with self-described liberals, among whom 78% are in favor. In contrast, 72% of conservatives are opposed. Moderates are about evenly divided on whether the use of marijuana should be legal, although they tilt against it (51% vs. 46%). Somewhat milder differences are seen according to political party, mainly because of the tempered support of Democrats relative to that of liberals. However, a solid 70% of Republicans — similar to the rate seen among conservatives — are opposed.
Essentially, virtually all Republicans self-identify as “conservative” whereas many Democrats think of themselves as “moderate” or even “conservative.” While this is partly a function of the greater size and therefore diversity of the Democratic coalition at the moment, it’s also the power of branding. Liberal has been a dirty word for decades, despite views considered ultra liberal in my boyhood now being moderate, if not conservative.
Public mores on legalization of marijuana have been changing this decade, and are now at their most tolerant in at least 40 years. If public support were to continue growing at a rate of 1% to 2% per year, as it has since 2000, the majority of Americans could favor legalization of the drug in as little as four years.
Perhaps true. But here’s the thing: A sizable percentage of those who will privately tell a pollster that they think marijuana should be legal would be unwilling to make that statement publicly, owing to pressure from their church group, social circle, and so forth. Conversely, those who favor criminalization are likely to be quite vocal and highly organized. We’ll need more than a slight majority supporting decriminalization to actually achieve it.