Brookings' Hudak: Pot Legalization Voters Will Boost Democrats

Monday, 25 Aug 2014 07:12 PM

By Cathy Burke

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Ballot issues over marijuana legalization may wind up being the Democrats' biggest hope of holding onto control of the Senate, a Brookings Institution researcher says.

Brookings' John Hudak writes in the FixGov blog that Alaska and Oregon voters will choose whether to legalize marijuana in November, but "regardless of the outcomes, the presence of those initiatives will likely drive younger and more liberal voters to the polls."

Legalization supporters would get an even bigger bang for their buck if they waited until 2016 to take advantage of a "dual effect," he adds.

"A presidential election year will bring out voters more sympathetic to legalization, and legalization will bring out even more young, liberal voters than normal," he writes.

"Marijuana may keep [incument Alaska Sen.] Mark Begich in the Senate and [Senate Majority Leader] Harry Reid at the helm in 2014, but it may have an even bigger impact on Democratic gains in 2016."

Republicans are hoping to pick up both Alaska and Oregon in voting the GOP hopes will help it take control of the upper chamber, and the Washington Examiner reports that Hudak's "science is simple and proven out over past elections."

For example, Hudak notes that 2012 marijuana initiatives in Colorado and Washington drew younger, more liberal voters.

He says Democrats could reap even bigger gains by "getting behind legalization initiatives, like the GOP did on same-sex marriage bans."

"Some credit President [George W.] Bush's re-election in 2004 to the push for same-sex marriage initiatives on statewide ballots by spurring social conservative turnout," Hudak writes. "Democrats could have received a similar boost by pushing legalization initiatives that would alter the electorate in a year when Democrats need it for structural and political reasons."

In 2004, activists and state legislators placed anti-gay-marriage questions on the general election ballots of 11 states, where all of them passed, researchers have found.

"People turn out for elections when they feel passion about a candidate or a race, but ballot initiatives can also generate interest, passion and turnout," Hudak writes, citing the research from the 2004 initiatives. "Passion about marijuana legalization can do the same, and we have evidence of this effect."

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