There is a growing body of evidence that California’s Proposition 19, which would legalize, regulate, and tax marijuana, will drive an increase in youth turnout this year. Marijuana legalization is very popular with young voters, and they are very tuned in to news about Prop 19. Both macro and micro indicators point to higher than normal turnout among young voters this midterm in California, and that increase loops back to the presence of the marijuana initiative on the ballot.

On the Macro Level

With its own cultures of passionate supporters and dedicated opponents, Marijuana legalization is a political issue unlike almost any other. Rallies dedicated to the reform of marijuana laws draw tens of thousand regularly around the country. Rare is the political issue that can do that.

Marijuana legalization is extremely popular on the internet. The Prop 19 page is by far the most visited initiative page this year on Ballotpedia.org. On Facebook, the Yes on Prop 19 campaign now has 180,000 fans. That is a significantly larger number of followers than any California candidate, and orders of magnitude larger than any other ballot measure in the state.

Looking at the Polling and Data

A 2009 America Votes poll of Coloradans found that 45% of “surge voters” said they would be more interested in voting if marijuana legalization was on the ballot. A similar dynamic seems to be playing out in California right now.

Young voters are extremely interested in Prop 19. Awareness of Prop 19 being on the ballot is nearly universal with likely voters under age 30. A Field poll found an unheard-of 94 percent of young voters know the initiative is on the ballot, which is noticeably higher than Prop 19’s 84 percent awareness with all voters. Normally, for a ballot measure, this level of awareness is almost impossible to achieve, even for the best funded campaigns.

Young voters in California are not just tuned in to the debate over Prop 19, but are planning to support it in big numbers. PPIC found 70 percent of likely voters under 35 (PDF) plan to vote for it, and a PPP poll found 67 percent of voters under 30 (PDF) planning to vote yes. Tom Jensen at PPP discovered California is one of the only states where they are not predicting a likely large drop-off in the youth vote this midterm.

A big question to contemplate in California is whether the marijuana initiative is helping to stifle the enthusiasm gap Democrats are dealing with in most other states, particularly when it comes to intended turnout from young voters. We’re seeing a much higher level of interest in this election from voters under 45 in California than in most places and those folks are highly favorable toward Proposition 19, planning to vote for it by a 54/34 margin.

The evidence is strong that it is Proposition 19, and not Jerry Brown’s lackluster campaign, that has young people interested in voting this year.

The Impact

While we will not know for sure until November 2nd, several factors indicate Prop 19 is going to help drive youth turnout. Marijuana prohibition disproportionately affects young voters, they are very focused on the debate over Prop 19, and they overwhelming plan to vote for the initiative.

With the initiative polling right around 50 percent, the numbers in which young voters turn out to support it could make the difference between passage and failure. Previous analysis shows that if young voters turnout this November at the same percentages of the electorate that they normally do during presidential years, it could mean Prop 19 passes 51 percent to 49 percent, instead of failing 49-51.