Majority Of Americans Support Marijuana Legalization, 64% For Americans 18-34
Support for legalizing marijuana continues to grow slowly but surely.
In the wake of ballot sucesses in Oregon, Arizona, and Washington, D.C. on Election Day, a new Gallup poll shows that a slim majority supports legalization of marijuana, but support has dropped slightly from a year ago, suggesting that it will be some time before the legalization movement becomes a nationwide phenomenon:
PRINCETON, N.J. — A slim majority of Americans, 51%, favor legalizing the use of marijuana — similar to the 50% who supported it in 2011 and 2012, but down from a reading of 58% last year.
The new result is based on an Oct. 12-15 Gallup poll, conducted in the run-up to the midterm elections in which various pro-marijuana policy initiatives went before voters in Oregon, Washington, D.C and Florida, as well as in several cities in Maine, Michigan and elsewhere. Most of those initiatives succeeded, although a proposed Constitutional amendment in Florida to legalize medical marijuana failed with 57% of the vote, just shy of the 60% needed.
Gallup’s long-term trend on Americans’ support for legalizing marijuana (the full trend is available here) shows that in 1969, just 12% of U.S. adults were in favor. But that swelled to 28% by the late 1970s, and 34% by 2003. Since then, support steadily increased to the point that 50% supported it in 2011. Last year was the first time Gallup found a solid majority in favor, at 58%. That poll was conducted amid heavy news coverage of the imminent implementation of Colorado’s marijuana legalization law, which may have contributed to what appears to have been a temporary jump in support. This year, support at 51% is still a majority, but closer to where it was in 2011 and 2012.
Here’s the chart showing how the numbers have changed:
It’s hard to say what might account for the drop from 58% last year to 50% this year. Perhaps it’s possible that some of the coverage of legalization efforts in Colorado and Washington led to some negative push back among some part of the American public. There was, after all, some typically fear mongering coverage about the issue of children getting their hands on the edible marijuana products that have proven to be particularly popular in Colorado. For the most part, though, I haven’t really noticed an up-tick in negative coverage of legalization, or even of legalization generally on a national level so that explanation does’t necessarily make sense. Another possibility is that the 2013 number is simply a statistical blip that didn’t necessarily represent the trend After all, it was just a year before that support for legalization had hit 48% while opposition was at 50%. The fact that, just a year later, the number was at 58% for legalization and only 39% against it, then, was somewhat of a surprise, and appears to be outside of the general trend which has show that support and opposition have been moving slowly in their respective directions. This years numbers appear to continue that trend. So, perhaps we ought to just chalk up the 2013 survey to being an outlier, and recognize the broader point that, slowly but surely, support for legalization is growing.
Of course, as with many issues of this type, whether or not you support legalization is likely to depend on who you are. For example, there are definite differences based on political ideology:
And, where you live:
Neither of these sets of numbers should be all too surprising, of course. To date, most of the movement on legalization and medical marijuana has come in the East and the West, which also happens to be areas of general cultural liberalism and openness. That’s likely to continue into the future, with the next likely battleground for legalization coming in 2016 in California, where advocates are working on putting the matter back on the ballot for a second time after failing to get legalization passed in 2010. Given the nature of the electorate that is likely to come to the polls in California in 2016, and polls in that state showing much higher support for legalization than we saw four years ago, the likelihood of passage this second time, while not guaranteed, seems to be much higher. Passage of legalization in America’s most populated state is likely to have an impact around the country, of course, but the fact that support for legalization remains lower in the South and Midwest suggests that it will still be some time before those parts of the country even begin to move on the issue.
There’s one takeaway from the Gallup poll that remains as true today as it has been for several years now. Notwithstanding the drop in support from 2013 to 2014 and the fact that political ideology and geography tend to dictate public opinion on the issue, there is one cohort among whom support for legalization continues to grow notwithstanding ideology, geography, or any other demographic. Among people 18 to 34 years old, support for legalization is at 64% and growing, while support only reaches 41% among those 55 and older. The age group in between is generally more supportive of legalization than opposed. What this suggests is that, much like support for same-sex marriage, it will be younger Americans that will guide public attitudes on this issue going forward, especially as they age and become a larger segment of the electorate. Eventually, then even the South and Midwest will become more supportive of legalization, and even conservatives will be seen as more receptive to the idea. Progress in this area is likely to be slower than what we’ve seen in the same-sex marriage battle, in no small part because there won’t be the same court action possible as there was in that area, but the inevitable direction seems to be clear. Legalization is the future.