52% of California Adults Favor Marijuana Legalization: Good News, But We Must Do Better

By Aaron Juchau and Randy Hencken

The latest Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) poll puts the number of adults in California who favor the legalization of marijuana at 52%, and suggests that six out of ten likely voters favor legalization.  This is a new record and great news to those of us working to legalize marijuana.  It means our efforts have been moving that fickle number in the right direction, and we should keep it up.  However, our movement has too much to lose from another loss at the ballot box to be comfortable with a shaky 2% margin. We should continue our efforts to bring more people onto our side with the goal of winning by a landslide in 2016.

First, let’s put this new number in perspective.  When it comes to passing ballot measures, “initial” polls (surveys that are not close to an election) are really just that: “initial”.  They have a relatively weak correlation to the outcome of the election because a lot can happen between when the poll is taken and when the issue is voted on.

The Field Poll, an independent and non-partisan California pollster publishes an analysis of ballot measures’ polling to their final outcome.  

If we take a look at this data, we find that since 1994, the initial poll has accurately predicted the outcome of a ballot measure less than 68% of the time – that’s not too much better than pure chance.  The Field Poll’s data also points to some prime examples of why 52% is not a very comfortable margin:

  • Proposition 8, the ban on Marriage Equality (which many people assumed would never pass), had an initial poll of 51% opposed, 42% in favor, and 7% undecided.  The final outcome was more than reversed, with 52% in favor.
  • The 2006 proposition 82 would have raised taxes slightly on individual income over $400,000 and used the estimated $2.1 billion annually to fund a state-wide free public preschool program.  It polled initially at 55% in favor of the measure, but was soundly defeated 60% against to 30% in favor.
  • In 1998 proposition 223 would have capped public school districts’ administrative costs at 5% of their total budget.  It started with an initial 54% approval rating, but lost with 54% opposed.

For another marijuana legalization measure to have a solid chance of winning, 52% in favor simply won’t cut it.  With some issues, a small margin wouldn’t be a factor, and there’s certainly a lot we can do to raise more support during a campaign.  However, another failed proposition could be catastrophic for the movement.  Donors will shy away from funding an effort that has failed repeatedly, voters may begin to see the issue as a lost cause, and our opponents will latch on to the fact that California (of all places) doesn’t want to legalize marijuana.

We’ve made so much great progress in recent years, but we have so much to lose from another failed proposition.  Let’s spend the next 2 years working to win hearts and minds so that when we bring our issue back to the ballot box, we’re not leaving anything to chance.