As the 2016 presidential election ramps up, some Republican candidates have softened their stances on marijuana legalization and same-sex marriage. A few have even admitted to smoking marijuana in their experimental youths.
But several prominent candidates, including Marco Rubio, Rick Perry and even so-called moderate Jeb Bush remain staunchly opposed to both marijuana legalization and same-sex marriage. Will those conservative viewpoints hinder them in the upcoming election cycle?
Currently, only four states have legalized cannabis, but nearly a dozen others have passed decriminalization laws and allow for medical marijuana consumption.
It's important to note that the states with the highest levels of marijuana legality are generally the most left-leaning states. So for the 2016 election, the marijuana issue may not be a deciding factor for Republican candidates. But when looking at the growing popularity of marijuana legalization in the US, it becomes clear that this issue could play a crucial role in future elections.
Data from the Pew Research Center shows that over half the country now supports marijuana legalization, rising from a low of 16% in 1990. When looking at just millennials (those born between 1981-1997), this percentage jumps to 68%, indicating that future voters will be even more supportive of legalization.
While the popular vote is important, it's also crucial to evaluate how the marijuana issue will influence each candidate's performance in the electoral college. For example, Florida--the largest swing state--might seem to lean Republican on this issue since it currently prohibits marijuana use. However, according to a 2015 poll from Quinnipiac University, 53% of the state's population now supports legalization. Could Florida be nearing a tipping point on this polarizing issue?
Even more so than marijuana, legalization of same-sex marriage has made serious progress and is considered to be one of the defining civil rights issues of the decade. In fact, a majority of the country has supported same-sex marriage since 2013.
Looking at the InsideGov graphic below, we see that many Democratic and Republican states show support for same-sex marriage. Moreover, important swing states like Colorado, Florida, and New Hampshire have legalized same-sex marriage.
Ohio--one of the only swing states currently banning same-sex marriage--may also become a challenging hurdle for Republican candidates. The Federal Supreme Court is now reviewing the legality of Ohio's same-sex marriage ban, and the margin of Ohioans who oppose same-sex marriage has been shrinking steadily.
It's clear that Republican candidates will have to walk a fine line between alienating their conservative base and appealing to the broader public in the general election.