The new GOP: For the first time, more Republicans support legalizing the use of marijuana than oppose it

Is this the first YouGov poll to show a plurality of Republicans in favor of legalizing weed or the first poll, period? We’ve been trending in this direction for awhile but offhand I can’t remember seeing a survey that had more GOPers supporting legalization than opposed. There have been polls showing Americans generally are in favor, polls showing that young Republicans are in favor, and polls showing that Republicans think alcohol is more dangerous health-wise than pot is. There’s even been a poll that found a majority of Republicans don’t want federal marijuana laws enforced in states where the drug is legal. But a straight-up “legalize it” result from the entire party is a new one on me, at least.

Ailes is out at Fox, Trump is the nominee, and Republicans are ready to toke. Brave new world:

YouGov’s latest research shows that most Americans still support legalization of marijuana, and that support for legalization has increased slightly, from 52% in December 2015 to 55% today. Most of this change is a result of changing attitudes among Republicans. In fact, for the first time, Republicans narrowly tend to support legalization, 45% to 42%.

In December 2015, Republicans had opposed marijuana legalization by 50% to 36%. Prior to this Republicans support for legalization was even more limited. In January 2014 60% of Republicans opposed legalizing marijuana and only 28% supported legalization.

That’s a sharp turnaround for such a short timespan with no major precipitating events in the interim related to legalization. I wonder if Trump’s success in the primaries inadvertently shook loose some support for relaxing marijuana laws among fencesitters in the belief that the GOP is no longer a socially conservative party to the same degree that it used to be. If you privately questioned the utility of restrictions on pot but went along with party orthodoxy because it’s just What Republicans Believe, Trump’s victory is proof that What Republicans Believe isn’t nearly as clear-cut as you might think. If Trump is willing to challenge Republican conventional wisdom on some subjects, GOP voters might be more willing to challenge it on others. That would be a mighty ironic outcome in the context of legalizing marijuana given that Trump’s a teetotaler who’s running as the law-and-order candidate, but oh well.

To put the numbers above in context, when black Americans are asked whether we should legalize the use of marijuana, they split 44/35. Republicans are actually slightly more in favor now than an overwhelmingly Democratic group. Refine the question to ask whether people agree with the statement that government efforts to enforce pot laws cost more than they’re worth and the GOP plurality above turns into a majority:


As in at least one previous survey, more Republicans say the feds shouldn’t enforce their own anti-marijuana laws in states where the drug is legal. (Among GOPers, that’s a plurality of 48 percent. Among Americans generally, it’s a comfortable majority of 57 percent.) One especially interesting result: There’s no difference in the numbers when Republicans are asked how serious they think it is for an 18-year-old to try alcohol versus marijuana. In both cases, 37 percent say it’s very serious and 33 percent say somewhat serious. Ask them how serious it is for an 18-year-old to try cocaine and opposition skyrockets to 88 percent who say it’s very serious. If you’re looking for evidence that legalization advocates have won the debate over whether weed is more like booze, which can be enjoyed responsibly in moderation, or more like the harder drugs with which it’s traditionally been associated, there you go.

The American age demographic that most strongly supports legalization is, of course, the under-30 group, which splits 63/25. (The 45-64 group, which remembers their own experiences in the 1960s and 1970s, trails closely behind at 60/30.) In theory there’s an opening here for Trump to grab the attention of younger adults, who have been chilly to him so far, and strongly signal to everyone else that “his” Republican Party is different from the old one by pandering a bit on legalization. He wouldn’t need to go the whole nine yards necessarily; a gesture towards letting Colorado’s pro-pot laws stand unhindered by the feds might be enough. In reality, though, he’d probably lose more votes by undermining his law-and-order pitch to working-class whites that way than he’d gain from other constituencies. Remember, this guy has Chris Christie lined up to be his AG; Christie swore up and down during the primaries that he’d be a hard-ass on drug prohibition, including prosecuting people on federal charges in states where the drug is legal. For the same reason, Hillary Clinton will need to think twice before dangling any pro-legalization soundbites, no matter how much it might endear her to younger voters. Trump’s trying to frame her and the left as a threat to civil order. Her coming out against decades of marijuana prohibition now might convince some voters, especially older ones, that Trump is right and that he’s the last bulwark against social breakdown. The politics of this election more broadly mean the politics of marijuana are frozen — for now. If and when President Hillary gets elected and needs a bold move to energize young progressives ahead of 2020, things will change.