Poll: Californians Want to Legalize Marijuana

Polling has gone back and forth on whether or not Californians actually want to legalize marijuana, but the latest numbers show legalization's prospects looking up.

Proposition 19, the ballot initiative that would legalize personal possession and growth statewide, while allowing counties to individually legalize commercial sales, enjoys a 47 -38 percent advantage according to Public Policy Polling's September 14-16 automated phone survey of 630 likely voters. Margin of error was +/- 3.9 percent.

Other polls, at other times, have shown different results.

In early July, Field Research (perhaps the most widely known and respected California-based polling firm) showed Prop. 19 failing 48 - 44 percent in a live-interview phone survey of 1,005 likely voters. Before that, Survey USA (another national firm that, like PPP, conducts automated polls) showed legalization prevailing 56 - 42 percent in an April 20 (ha.) survey of 500 Californians.

The latest poll defies some of the prevailing theory on marijuana legalization, in that so many respondents were undecided.

Legalization advocates have said before that public opinion on marijuana is, in general, both static and divisive. People generally have an opinion on it, either yes or no, when asked. Yes, public campaigns can change those opinions, but by and large people have made up their minds. One marijuana legalizer was pessimistic about Prop. 19's chances a few months ago, given that Field had shown it polling behind. If it's starting out behind, not much can really be done to change that, the logic went.

But PPP actually shows 14 percent of likely California voters undecided on Prop. 19, which is new. Field showed 8 percent undecided, while Survey USA showed 3 percent.

So here's where polling on marijuana legalization stands: the poll with the largest sample sizes, the only poll to use live interviews, showed legalization trailing earlier this summer. Public Policy Polling's automated survey, with a smaller sample size, shows it ahead. PPP has had a decent track record in predicting primary races this year, even though the broader community of pollsters and journalists tends to be skeptical of automated polls.

Prop. 19 still faces an uphill climb, as elections go, with an older, more politically engaged electorate expected to turn out in November. But the latest signs point both to a flexible electorate and a viable chance at winning, so there appears to be a solid chance pot will be legal in California come November 3.