With cannabis on the ballot, can Clinton and Trump cash in on the pot vote? Or why not in the UK too?
The unprecedented number of cannabis measures on the ballot in November, including in two swing states, could complicate turnout in the 2016 presidential election, bringing out more voters, but not reliably for any candidate.
At first glance, the traditional demographic of marijuana voters – white, young, male, Democratic – would presumably increase votes for Clinton. But with the Libertarian candidate (and known pot enthusiast), Gary Johnson, having the best chance since Nader to siphon votes away from a mainstream candidate, and the unpredictable loyalty of party-line voters this year, it’s not guaranteed that Clinton will be able to cash in on the momentum of marijuana.
“Polls show that there’s a trend toward marijuana legalization, so the energy behind this issue seems to be on the legalization side,” said Geoffrey Skelley, media relations coordinator for the University of Virginia’s Center For Politics. So if there are citizens who turn out and vote because of this issue, it’s probably going to favor Democrats.”
But, Skelley notes, a certain slice of voters motivated by marijuana politics may not support Clinton or Trump.
“You’re talking about a group that’s more white male than not, and even at younger ages, they don’t view Clinton favorably. Romney won 18- to 29-year-old white men in 2012, and that’s a group Trump should hope to be winning. So he should be worried that Gary Johnson could steal some votes from him there. After all, young men who are white are a potentially good voting group for Johnson, so higher turnout related to marijuana legalization might hurt Trump, even at the margins.”
Celinda Lake of Lake Research Partners, a Democratic polling firm, said there are significant numbers of people across the board who are motivated by this issue, but for various reasons. “African Americans tend to support it from a criminal justice perspective, older whites often come to it from a medical perspective, libertarians see it as a privacy issue, particularly in the west.” “If they’re framing it as a criminal justice issue, [Trump or Clinton] could really broaden their audience,” Skelley said. “It makes it part of a larger conversation.”
Both Clinton and Trump have had trouble wooing Black Lives Matter voters, so showing that they care about the disproportionate arrest of millions of African Americans for marijuana possession could help.
When it comes to older voters, polls show that many seniors do embrace medical marijuana, though marijuana legalization is not on their agenda. In states like Florida, Arkansas and Missouri, where medical marijuana is looking to be legalized, and Montana, where medical laws would be expanded, a candidate could appeal to retired voters by supporting the measures.
Millennials are far and away the target market for marijuana campaigns, with 71% in favor of ending prohibition – compared with 58% nationally. So in states proposing full legalization like Arizona, California, Massachusetts, Maine and Nevada, showing support for marijuana reform could bolster a candidate’s numbers by a few points.
Over the course of the 2016 election, both Trump and Clinton have engaged in some hardcore flirting with marijuana voters.
This would explain why the Democratic party platform was recently loaded with several pro-pot proposals, with the expressed intention of creating “a reasoned pathway to future legalization”.
Clinton has been wary of marijuana in the past, eventually warming to medical marijuana before coming out in favor of moving cannabis from a DEA schedule 1 drug to schedule 2. Though she has yet to go so far as Bernie Sanders or Gary Johnson to support full federal legalization. “Clinton’s strategy seems to propose a continuation of the status quo, letting it unfold in the states, making her appear more moderate, which makes sense in the general election,” says Berry.
While Trump has said he supports medical marijuana, he opposes full legalization. But that’s a lot further than his party is willing to go: a proposal to adopt medical marijuana on to the GOP platform recently failed, with opponents citing the “gateway” theory, tying medical marijuana to heroin use.
Berry noted: “It seems that there are more political costs to being opposed to marijuana instead of being in favor of it, which is strange because if you go back 10 years ago, it was just the opposite.”