Despite the discussion currently accruing over issues on the upcoming June 8 ballot, the November ballot has recently managed to snag a sizable slice of the media due to its controversial inclusion of a measure legalizing marijuana.
If passed, backers of drug legalization claim it will reduce drug-related crime, save on prison spending, and generate increased tax revenue. If denied – a non-trivial possibility, even in California, given the prevailing political winds – the measure will at least frame a discussion.
According to a recent poll commissioned by the Los Angeles Times, 49% of voters favor legalization, 41% do not, and 10% are undecided. This is, at least at the level of raw data, an encouraging set of statistics for the proponents of the measure, who need only win one out of every five undecided voters in order to pass the measure. That is, assuming that things stay constant, which is not at all a foregone conclusion.
In introducing the poll, the Times notes that, among those who oppose the measure, a “vast majority believe it will worsen social problems.” It seems prudent to take this as an indicator that the opponents have an advantage from the enthusiasm perspective. After all, it’s much easier to get people excited through fear of what could happen, than it is to get people sufficiently agitated to bemoan things as they happen now.
This means a number of things for the backers of the measure, who may need to play double duty insofar as they will have to simultaneously cement their existing plurality while persuading the tiny minority of undecided voters to favor their solution. This is more difficult than the conundrum faced by the bill’s opponents, who have only to persistently go on the attack.
Another area which may put the supporters at a disadvantage is the question of timing. Yes, the measure attracts 49% support now, almost half a year before the election, but this is a season of upset elections, and six months before his election, Scott Brown was polling very poorly indeed.
Moreover, because everyone’s attention is focused on the June ballot, issues on the November ballot have not had a chance to be properly savaged by interest groups or political parties. Finally, the fact that this story has been broken so early means that the opponents now have almost half a year to gear up for the warpath – in politics, a rather frightening prospect, especially for a morally counterintuitive measure like the one in question.
In short, supporters of pot legalization enjoy an advantage on the basis of numbers, and that is not in question. However, they should avoid complacency if they want to see their measure passed.
At the same time, while opponents enjoy a host of tactical advantages, they can really only succeed if they know how to use them. The debate over this measure has not even begun, and it may be a long way off, but Californians should keep their eyes open.
This one’s going to stay in the news.