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Are Voters Afraid To Talk About Pot?

California's Prop. 19 would legalize possessing, cultivating and transporting marijuana for personal use
California's Prop. 19 would legalize possessing, cultivating and transporting marijuana for personal use
As Prop. 19 sinks in polls, some claim 'Broadus Effect'

With Proposition 19 sinking in recent polls, the campaign to legalize pot argued Friday that it’s because voters are reluctant to tell pollsters their true feelings about marijuana.

The most recent Public Policy Institute of California poll has the measure failing 49 percent to 44 percent. The Yes on 19 campaign released its own poll, which has Prop. 19 winning and which the campaign said was automated to make people feel more comfortable talking about pot.

"As the polling shows, there still seems to be somewhat of a social stigma attached to marijuana and the politics surrounding it," said Dan Newman, a political strategist with the Yes On 19 campaign. "We're confident that when Californians find themselves in the privacy of voting booths on Nov. 2, they will vote to end decades of failed and harmful marijuana policies."

But the theory isn’t swaying all political observers.

“Is there really much of a stigma to talking about legalizing marijuana in California?” said Ethan Rarick, who heads the Robert T. Matsui Center for Politics and Public Service at UC Berkeley. “I wouldn't imagine there is going to be much stigma, but I am at Berkeley here.”

The theory is a slightly different spin on the Bradley effect, which proposes that white voters say they’ll vote for black candidate but won’t once they get in the voting booth. It was named for Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley who lost a race for California governor after leading in the polls.

In the case of marijuana, it’s being called the reverse Bradley effect or, as New York Times reporter Nate Silver called it, the Broadus effect, named for Calvin Broadus aka Snoop Dogg.

Stanford professor Jon Krosnick was also skeptical of the claims. Krosnick, whose research includes political psychology and survey methodology, said that the Bradley effect itself isn’t backed up by sufficient evidence. In the case of Bradley’s election, he said that internal polls tracked much closer to the actual result.

“There was never a Bradley effect with Bradley,” he said.

Krosnick said that “final pre-election polls done right before the election are incredibly accurate,” adding that he doesn’t think voters would be afraid to share their feelings on marijuana with pollsters.

UC Berkeley’s Rarick said that state initiatives usually sink in the polls as the election approaches and voters' confusion and apprehensiveness about change morphs into 'no' votes. An initiative normally needs to be at 55 to 58 percent a few weeks out in order to pass, he said. 

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