A new survey by Public Policy Polling finds record support for marijuana legalization: In a national sample of 1,325 registered voters, 58 percent said "the use of marijuana should be made legal." The survey, which was commissioned by the Marijuana Policy Project and conducted from November 30 through December 2, also found that 47 percent of respondents thought President Obama should let Colorado and Washington implement their legalization initiatives, while 33 percent said "he should use federal resources to prevent the laws from taking effect."
A recent CBS News poll, by comparison, found that Americans are evenly split on the question of legalization, with 6 percent undecided. At 47 percent, support for legalization is higher than in any year since CBS began asking the question in 1979, when just 27 percent of respondents favored legal pot. Similarly, a Gallup poll last year put support for legalization at 50 percent, the highest it has ever been in that organization's surveys The latest Reason-Rupe results are very close to the numbers in the CBS survey: 48 percent for legalization and 48 percent against. CBS also found that 59 percent of respondents thought state governments, rather than the federal government, "should determine whether marijuana is legal."
In the Public Policy Polling survey, Republicans were much more likely than Democrats to oppose marijuana legalization (56 percent vs. 28 percent), to say that marijuana is not safer than alcohol (58 percent vs. 29 percent), and to favor federal interference with state legalization (46 percent vs. 26 percent). Those numbers suggest at least some Republicans put federalism ahead of their anti-pot prejudices, although not as many as one might like. Democrats, meanwhile, overwhelmingly favor states' rights (by a factor of more than 2 to 1) on this one issue where they happen to like the policy outcome. Republicans look more principled in the CBS News poll, where 65 percent of them said states should determine whether marijuana is legal within their borders, compared to 55 percent of Democrats, even though Democrats were more likely to say pot should be legal (51 percent vs. 27 percent).
What accounts for the differences between the surveys? A few possibly relevant factors: Public Policy Polling surveyed registered voters, while CBS included all adults; Public Policy Polling uses automated questionnaires via telephone, while CBS uses human interviewers, also over the phone; and there were some differences in the wording of questions. Both surveys asked the same legalization question: "Do you think that the use of marijuana should be made legal, or not?" But the federalism questions were different. Public Policy Polling asked, "Do you feel President Obama should allow Colorado and Washington to implement these laws, or do you think he should use federal resources to prevent these laws from taking effect?" CBS News asked, "Do you think laws regarding whether the use of marijuana is legal or not should be determined by the federal government, or left to each individual state government to decide?" The latter question is a bit more general, so it might have tapped into Republicans' federalist inclinations more effectively. Then again, you'd think the specific reference to Obama in the former question would make Republicans more inclined to oppose federal interference.
Older polling organizations such as Gallup and CBS generally have found less support for marijuana legalization than newer ones such as Public Policy Polling and Rasmussen Reports. For what it's worth, Public Policy Polling's pre-election numbers in Colorado and Washington were pretty close to the actual votes in those states, underestimating support for legalization by two to three points.