It appears even an “Obama official” is talking about how marijuana ballot measures might be the Democratic equivalent of gay marriage ban initiatives for Republicans. In 2004, ballot initiatives to ban gay marriage likely increased the conservative vote, helping to elect Republicans. From Joshua Green at “The Atlantic”:
[O]ne issue nobody has examined is what effect these [marijuana] initiatives have on candidates’ performance at the polls. Acting on a tip from an Obama official, I found a few Democratic consultants who have become convinced that ballot initiatives legalizing marijuana, like the one Californians will vote on in November, actually help Democrats in the same way that gay marriage bans were supposed to have helped Republicans. They are similarly popular, with medical marijuana having passed in 14 states (and the District of Columbia) where it has appeared on the ballot. In a recent poll, 56 percent of Californians said they favor the upcoming initiative to legalize and tax pot.
The issue here is demographics and voter turnout. Only a portion of all adults in the country are actually registered to vote; only a fraction of those registered will cast a ballot this November. Young adults are among the least likely to be registered to vote or to bother to show up to vote.
Among all adults and all registered voters, Democrats are actually still favored over Republicans. The problem is that Democrats are effectively tied with or losing to Republicans among the most important group: those individuals expected to vote in November.
The idea is that having marijuana on the ballot has the unique ability to fire up young adults, who tend to vote Democratic. It may spur them to register to vote and actually show up on Election Day. The more the likely voter resembles the general population, the better it is for Democrats.
California will be a huge test case to see if having marijuana legalization on the ballot can noticeably increase youth turnout. The state Democratic Party must sure be hoping legalization will fire up young adults to vote, because I don’t see gubernatorial candidate Jerry Brown doing that. Especially if Brown continues his dangerously ignorant attacks on the ballot measure.
It is important to remember that despite the fact that a large segment of the country supports marijuana legalization, very few elected officials from either major party have publicly endorsed the policy. At this point, both parties still have the opportunity to grab the pro-legalization mantle. Future marijuana ballot measures could easily end up helping Republicans, if that party quickly follows the lead of former New Mexico GOP Governor Gary Johnson by endorsing cannabis legalization as a necessary outgrowth of a libertarian desire for smaller government.