Why a Stoner Stereotype Won't Spoil North Carolina's Senate Race

How conservatives think of potheads is just as kitschy as you'd think—which is why it likely won't swing an important election.

National Journal

Plaid, earth-toned flannel? Check. A chill dude wearing a T-shirt of Bob Marley smoking a joint? Got it. A mic-drop "Ohhh, yeah," Kool-Aid-Man-style? Inexplicably, yes.

In an effort to upset the North Carolina Senate race, a series of digital ads depicting stoner culture urge voters to support Sean Haugh, the pro-marijuana libertarian running against Democrat Sen. Kay Hagan and her Republican challenger, Thom Tillis.

Haugh, a pizza deliveryman and former executive director of the Libertarian Party of North Carolina, isn't behind the spots. The conservative American Future Fund spent $225,000 on the campaign in an attempt to move Hagan voters to the more "progressive" third-party candidate. Emphasizing Haugh's support for the environment, peace, and, yes, marijuana legalization, the videos draw sharp contrasts between the libertarian and Democratic candidates. But it likely won't disrupt the race.

Imagining potheads seemingly doesn't come easy for conservative admakers. The videos have all the elements of deep opposition research on typical marijuana supporters—albeit research stemming from pop-culture cliches.

Erik Altieri, the communications director for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, told National Journal that because these stereotypes don't represent most supporters of marijuana legalization, that messaging won't work.

"The majority of our support, as we're getting close to 60 percent support nationwide, is coming from individuals who likely don't smoke marijuana themselves and don't really have a stake in the issue from that end, but they do have a stake in terms of the tax dollars being spent on enforcing prohibition and the crime that it really generates," he said. "Focusing on the regulation, and the failures of prohibition, definitely seem more effective and to resonate better than something that sounds more, just 'Yay pot.' "

The targets of the ad campaign—actual stoners—won't be moved by an insincere call to "get high," Altieri said.

Stoners "do have a good nose for, pardon my French, bullshit," he told National Journal. "If they see that this is going to be something that is really just a weak attempt to pander to their interests, I don't think it'll really influence them."

While Hagan and Tillis head toward Election Day in a statistical tie, polls show Haugh now garnering 6 percent of the vote. In a race this tight, nearly anything could shift the balance. But weed-smoking North Carolinians likely won't be the deciding factor. After all, if we're to believe the conservative stereotype depicted in the online ads, they'll be too busy smoking blunts and eating Doritos to get to the polls.