The latest poll on legalization of marijuana from ABC News shows an even split – 49 to 48 percent – by Americans on the subject – not a clear majority as some other recent polls have found (Gallup’s in particular). That’s still a record high for the ABC poll, which has the benefit of identical wording over time: “Overall, do you support or oppose legalizing the possession of small amounts of marijuana for personal use?” Support has doubled since the mid-1980s.
But what’s interesting to me about the poll is its internals. They’re really surprising to me. I asked ABC News for the full data and here it is:
So one of the most powerful arguments for legalization of marijuana – that Prohibition grotesquely singles out African-Americans for criminal enforcement and spares whites – carries no more weight among African-Americans than it does among whites. Of those African-Americans who feel strongly about the subject, 40 percent oppose legalization and only 32 percent support it. Overall, there’s no statistically significant difference between whites and blacks on this. I’d be fascinated to hear from readers why they think this might be so. It seems on the surface that social conservatism is outweighing civil rights. But I’m genuinely baffled.
The second most striking thing is that having kids in the home doesn’t seem to change views much.
So that’s another perhaps lazy assumption debunked in this poll – that “protecting kids” works either for or against legalization. Even what you’d imagine would be a big regional split – between the West and the South – is pretty much a damp squib. The West favors legalization 52 – 44; the South opposes it by a similar margin. The only statistically significant variation in the regional polling is between the South and the West among those strongly opposing legalization. It’s 41 percent in the South and only 29 percent in the West. That makes more intuitive sense. But the South is far closer to the rest of the country on pot than on gays.
So what factor is statistically significant? It’s age:
Americans 65 or older are half as likely to approve of legalization as are those age 18 to 64 – 27 vs. 54 percent. And 59 percent of the elderly disapprove strongly. Support peaks among 18 – to 39 – year-olds, at 59 percent , including 37 percent who strongly support the idea.
This, in other words, is an issue like marriage equality or president Obama’s base of support. It’s generational. The young cannot see the logic behind criminal prohibition of a pleasurable plant much less dangerous than alcohol or tobacco. The old retain the attitudes and the fears of the past. Perhaps, over time, the young will become more like the old. But the huge shift in favor of this over the last two decades, like the huge shift in favor of marriage equality, suggests precisely otherwise. They all suggest a new, saner, more tolerant America is out there, waiting for one recalcitrant faction of one particular generation to die.
(Photo: Matthew Staver for the Washington Post via Getty Images)