Poll: Voters Sharing, But Hiding, Attitudes On Medical Marijuana

by Talk Business & Politics staff ([email protected]) 55 views 

A Talk Business-Hendrix College Poll exploring voter attitudes for and against a recently defeated medical marijuana initiative indicates that changes to the measure could influence the future outcome of another vote on the topic.  The survey also shows that voters may be hiding their true preferences on the subject judging by the final poll and electoral results.

In a survey of 1,126 statewide registered voters who confirmed they voted on November 6, 2012, only 41% said they voted for medical marijuana, while 59% said they voted against the measure. The final statewide vote tally was unofficially 51% against the proposal and 49% for the ballot initiative titled Issue 5.

Dr. Jay Barth, professor of political science at Hendrix College, helped craft and analyze the latest poll. He offered this explanation of the initial poll results:

Our polling on Issue 5 — both before the election and, even more interesting, afterwards —- suggests a “stealth support” for the measure. Our large sample captured the Arkansas vote for President almost perfectly, but it showed about 9 percent lower support for Issue 5 than was shown in the actual election results.

In politics, there is often a discussion of a “Bradley effect.” This refers back to the 1982 California Governor's race when African-American Los Angeles mayor Tom Bradley was shown to be ahead in pre-election surveys but lost in the election.

This same result was reiterated in Virginia Governor Douglas Wilder's close win in 1989 following polls indicating him in a strong position. More recently, measures on same-sex marriage have had pre-election polling that was more favorable to marriage equality than actual election results.

Issue 5's story suggests a “reverse Wilder effect” as some voters who support the measure seem to be hesitant to express this support to pollsters. In future elections on the issue, it will be important to keep this factor in mind as we poll on the issue in Arkansas.

The statewide survey asked two questions of voters. First, they were asked if they supported or opposed the medical marijuana measure. Depending on their responses, they were directed to a follow-up question.

Q.  Did you vote for or against Issue 5, the proposal to legalize the medical use of marijuana in Arkansas?

41%     For
59%    Against

(For those who voted “For”)
Q.  What was the main reason for your decision?
66%     It is a compassionate alternative for the sick who are in pain
22%     It is time to legalize marijuana
12%     Other

(For those who voted “Against”)
Q.  What was the main reason for your decision?

45.5%     It is an illegal drug and should remain that way
28.5%     It is against my values or morals
16%        The measure needs to be better written

10%        Other

“Whether medical marijuana has 41% or 49% support from voters, clearly 16% of opponents indicate they could be persuaded by a better written measure in the future,” said Roby Brock, executive editor of Talk Business. “Supporters will likely be buoyed by these results and those fighting the initiative must see that if it returns, they will have to work harder to defeat it in the future.”

Barth offered additional analysis regarding the demographics behind the vote:

Age, Ethnicity & Gender

  • The measure lagged with those voters 65 and over, but the patterns of support and opposition were stable across the three age categories under 65.
  • In terms of race and ethnicity, the measure seemed to do best with African-American voters and worst with those voters (Latinos and Asian-Americans) who are not part of the primary racial groups in the state.
  • While there was no gender gap on the issue, unmarried Arkansans were more supportive by about 7%.

Political Identifiers

  • Democrats and those who consider themselves tied to another party showed majority support for the measure, while nearly three in four Republicans and a healthy majority of Independents opposed it.
  • Supporters of Barack Obama and those handful of Arkansas voters who supported a third-party candidate both showed majority support for Issue 5 while over 7 in 10 Romney voters opposed it.

Arguments For & Against

  • For those voting for the measure, just at two-thirds emphasized the compassionate care presented to those suffering from difficult health conditions for their vote, while only 22% emphasized the measure's links to eventual legalization of marijuana.
  • 12% of supporters had a primary reason for support that fit in neither of these categories.
  • Opponents of the measure, split between the 45.5% who emphasized the need for maintaining marijuana's illegal status in all situations. Just over a quarter of opponents emphasized their own social values in opposing the measure.
  • A smaller group (16%) noted that the measure needed to be “better written” suggesting that this group could well vote for a revised measure in the future, a vote that likely is to occur according to Issue 5's advocates.   A small percentage of voters had reasons for opposing the measure that didn't fit neatly into one of these three justifications.

This survey was conducted by Talk Business Research and Hendrix College on Sunday, November 11, 2012. The poll, which has a margin of error of +/-2.9%, was completed using IVR survey technology among 1,126 Arkansas voters statewide who confirmed in the first question that they participated in the Tuesday, November 6, 2012 election.

All media outlets are welcome to reprint, reproduce, or rebroadcast information from this poll with proper attribution to Talk Business and Hendrix College.

For interviews, contact Talk Business executive editor Roby Brock by email at [email protected] or Dr. Jay Barth by email at [email protected].