Memo: How Prop. 19 Can Win

Consultants on the marijuana legalization campaign outline their path to victory

It doesn't look like marijuana will be legal in California this year. The most recent polls show Proposition 19 failing by between seven (Field) and 12 (LA Times/USC) percentage points.

The Yes on 19 campaign, advised by former Clinton/Gore spokesman Chris Lehane and California Democratic strategist Dan Newman, circulated a memo last night outlining why things aren't so bad, and how Proposition 19 can still pass tomorrow.

The backbone of the argument: Youth support, Prop. 19's get-out-the-vote program (rallies an canvassing over the weekend), and the idea that polls are undercounting Prop. 19's support.

Memo below:

To: Interested Parties
From: Chris Lehane and Dan Newman
Date: October 31, 2010
Re: Election Day Report

With Election Day just days away, Proposition 19 is looking history in the eye and not blinking (

Proposition 19 is where it is today because of the support, energy and commitment this campaign has received from every corner of the state. Proposition 19 reflects the mosaic that is California -- Democrats, Republicans and Independents; Labor and Business; people of all colors and creeds; north and south; east and west; and even Dodgers, Angels, Padres and Giants fans.

And like the San Francisco Giants - we are focused on making history.

Many politicians are talking a good game when it comes to change but Proposition 19 shows that for real change to happen we the people must lead -- and then the politicians will follow.

In the context of Election Day, polls that are all over the map and countless stories discussing the impact of Proposition 19, we wanted to provide you an update on the campaign's strategy and game plan as we close out this election.

Strategically, while 19 is a "Yes" vote, and therefore has the burden of proof to make its case, there is a "No" element to the initiative - and that is to pose the question to voters as to whether they believe the current prohibition approach has worked. 

Provocative "Yes" campaigns have historically won by framing the issue with an effective closing argument. On this issue a large majority of voters already agree with the final premise, because they share the perspective that the current system of prohibition is a failure.

The closing argument is being made by compelling voices including law enforcement and moms that are focused on four messages:

  1. Prohibition has not worked and reform is needed;
  2. 19 will allow us to fight the drug cartels by taking away the black market;
  3. 19, by treating marijuana like alcohol, will make it harder for kids to get marijuana; and 
  4. 19 will generate massive new revenue for the state.
In addition, the campaign benefits from a few key dynamics endemic to this subject:

Youth Energy

California is likely to have the largest turnout of voters under 40 out of all the states, an effect being driven by this initiative. Traditional predictions of the mid-term electorate makeup will not apply to California this time because of the unprecedented excitement surrounding Prop. 19. President Obama benefited from the so-called first time Obama Voters in 2008 -- and Prop 19 is going to benefit from people turning out to vote because this initiative is on the ballot.

Sophisticated GOTV & Campus Effort

With partner organizations like Courage Campaign, Drug Policy Alliance, Students for Sensible Drug Policy, NORML, Just Say Now, California Young Democrats, and California College Republicans, etc, phone banks are running across the country and calling thousands of voters. We are additionally partnering with coordinated field efforts, including active teams across 25 major California campuses.

State of the Art Technologies

The campaign's predictive dialer lets us reach 5x more voters than traditional phone banking. A series of statewide, telephone town halls have allowed us to reach tens of thousands of undecided voters in the comfort of their own homes while allowing them to pose questions directly to the campaign. At our last town hall, support surged 17 points over the course of the call.
Yes on 19 continues to dominate in social networking, e.g. on Facebook we have 225,000 followers, more than any other political issue or candidate in California.

Great Silent Majority

Pollsters' 'likely voter' models undercount first-time, young and occasional voters who are most excited about 19.

Voter Frustration

Voters have increasingly become angrier and angrier at the establishment, and this is the most anti-establishment initiative nationally this cycle.

Early Voting

20-25% of the vote happened in the first ten days of absentee voting, when polls indicated 19 was ahead (and the banked votes presumably would reflect those polls).

Paid TV

Our first TV ad aired this week targeting women in the LA market and youth, African-Americans and Latinos elsewhere. It has received over 100K views on YouTube as well as coverage in all major media outlets, including MSNBC and Fox News Channel. Internal polls show the ad swings votes 8 points in 19's favor. Recent polls were all conducted prior to our going up on the air.

Polls Undercount Support

Respondents are less forthright on controversial issues and 19 performs significantly better in automated surveys than with live interviewers. Pollster Nate Silver has documented this 'reverse Bradley effect.' Support will be even higher in the privacy of a voting booth.

Historic Precedent

There is documented reality that marijuana reforms always under-poll and over-perform. In 2008, a Massachusetts decriminalization initiative received 14 more points in the actual ballot box than polls indicated just one week earlier.

Together these factors put 19 in a better position to win on Election Day than is indicated by the mainstream media narrative.