Prop. 19: not dead yet

Prop. 19 is behind in most polls, but in a split sample robo-polling shows more support than live polling. And landline-only polling disproportionately misses the under-30s, where support for cannabis legalization is very high.

The latest polling has Prop. 19 losing. That’s consistent with my intuition; getting a proposition passed in California generally requires more money and more energy than the Prop. 19 operation has been able to generate, and the combination of bad drafting and the RAND $40-an-ounce estimate ought to be enough to kill the deal, even given the truly primitive this-is-your-brain-on-drugs effort being mounted by the opponents.

But I’m not convinced. One of the yes-on-19 groups did a split-sample poll, with some respondents answering a live interviewer and others punching keypad buttons. The results (assuming the poll is being reported accurately) suggests that live polling may be noticeably under-estimating support for the proposition: the fact that the demographics of the two subsamples match closely makes me a tentative believer. With virtually every politician and newspaper in the state denouncing Prop. 19, it wouldn’t be surprising if some people were reluctant to express their disagreement (and risk being thought of as potheads).

Moreover, support for Prop. 19 declines sharply with age; the under-30s are overwhelmingly for it. They’re also much more likely than their elders to have cell phones only and therefore be missed by most polling, which calls only land-lines.

So this could still go either way. The InTrade market, which showed the proposition favored as recently as a week ago, now gives it one chance in three of passing. At those odds, I’m not taking either end of the bet. It may come down to whether the “amotivational syndrome” some drug-prevention folks have tried to attribute to cannabis applies to voting.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com

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