In October, a non-partisan think tank called Third Way conducted online polls in order to gauge American support for marijuana policy reform. Support for legalization is regularly painted in the media as widely divided between party lines, but a closer look at the numbers reveals a different story.
Third Way’s poll findings concluded that 50 percent of Americans support recreational marijuana while 47 percent oppose. These numbers are closely in line with Pew Research polls that peg support in the United States at 52 percent. What the team at Third Way chose to focus on however, was the number of voters who are still sitting on the fence.
There is an overwhelming amount of support for medical marijuana from both parties, with collective support at a whopping 78 percent. It is quite surprising to see such a broad range of support when medical marijuana remains illegal at the federal level, but most Americans agree that the federal government has no business telling states what to do. In fact, 67 percent of voters said that Congress should pass legislation giving states protection from overarching federal reach. A small segment, 21 percent, of those opposing the legality of marijuana still believe that Congress should pass laws to protect states where marijuana is legal.
In the overall sample, Third Way determined that Republicans, moderates, white females, and people over the age of 50 make up the majority of those still “sitting on the fence.” These voters will not be easily persuaded to go either way, but are perhaps the most important in terms of moving forward with marijuana policy reform. As we have seen in efforts like the Yes On 91 campaign in Oregon, these voters can be reached, educated and brought to the polls.
The messaging that will sway the opinions of the “marijuana middle” is still unclear, and it seems that there is no one-size-fits-all rhetoric. Messaging that illustrates America’s failed drug war and explains the compassionate use of marijuana for cancer patients seem to be front-runners, but this will not convince everyone that marijuana will work in their community. What is clear, is that this small group of individuals (the soccer moms and 50+ demographic) will need some convincing before they vote in favor of marijuana policy reform. Education and tight regulation of proposed legislation will be critical if proponents of policy reform want victories in 2016.
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