11/02/2010 05:51 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Parents Are Biggest Obstacle To Pot Legalization: Survey

UPDATE: California voters have rejected proposition 19, according to exit polls. The White House drug czar released a chest-thumping statement. "Today, Californians recognized that legalizing marijuana will not make our citizens healthier, solve California's budget crisis, or reduce drug related violence in Mexico," said Gil Kerlikowske in a statement. "The Obama Administration has been clear in its opposition to marijuana legalization because research shows that marijuana use is associated with voluntary treatment admissions for addiction, fatal drugged driving accidents, mental illness, and emergency room admissions."

* * * * *

Pot smokers hoping that Tuesday's California election will finally bring an end to marijuana prohibition are running into a familiar enemy: parents.

Proposition 19, which had been leading through much of the campaign, is now trailing in every survey. Support has declined fastest and hardest among those aged 40-49, the age demographic most likely to have children old enough to be thinking about -- or already -- smoking pot.

When those parents answered the survey earlier in the election, pot legalization was more idea than reality. As an idea, voters between 40 and 49 supported legalization by a 15-point margin of 53-38 in a survey released by the Field Poll, the gold standard for public-opinion research in California, in September. At the end of October, as the idea came closer to becoming a reality, that demographic flipped. A 15-point margin turned into a 13-point deficit. Nine percent remained undecided in both surveys. The unheard-of 28-point swing among a fifth of the electorate explains roughly half of the overall drop in the polls. Support among baby boomers aged 50-64 stayed constant in the survey. Among those aged 18-39, support fell from 59-33 to 54-38 over the course of a month. And those 65 and older backed away from the initiative as well, where support dropped from 36-29.

People in their 40s are most likely to have children who are teenagers. The question then for those parents when they head into the voting booth is, who they are thinking about: their kids or themselves?

The Field Poll is conducted by live interviewers, but an automated SurveyUSA poll shows a less pronounced decline among those who would be likely to have teenagers. Perhaps the shift in support in the Field Poll is a random statistical deviation, but frightened parents were the major driver of the anti-pot backlash that began in the late 1970s and paved the way for the ramp-up of the war on drugs.

Automated polls have been starkly different than live surveys in the polling around Proposition 19, with live interviewers finding support much lower, leading observers to conclude that voters are for some reason or other not inclined to express support for legalizing pot over the phone.

Organizers are hopeful that high youth turnout will carry Prop 19 over the objections of their elders. Tom Angell, a spokesman for Yes on 19, said that youth turnout is so high at the polling location at San Diego State University that the station ran out of provisional ballots by the morning.

The Prop 19 campaign provided the following memo, which outlines its case for why the measure can still prevail:

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.