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More polling

June 1, 2012

All over the media this morning is the screaming headline from the Los Angeles Times:

Most California voters don’t support legalizing pot, poll finds

The subtext is, if California doesn’t support legalization…

Of course, it’s the Los Angeles Times, and the Los Angeles Times poll, and the Los Angeles Times has never been pot friendly at all. The actual numbers are 50% opposed, 46% in favor with a error margin of +-3.5%. So yes, the headline is hyperbole.

The actual question was a simple one tossed in with a whole bunch of other questions about a broad range of political topics.

For example, one question asked was:

Some people have proposed that the state legalize online poker and collect a cut of the proceeds from gambling websites. The 200 million dollars or more each year that some legislators say would come from these new fees could help pay for education, public safety and other government services. From what you know, do you favor or oppose this proposal?

However, for marijuana, the question was:

Do you think marijuana should be legalized for general or recreational use by adults?

No indication of tax revenue. No mention of regulation, etc. It’s not that the question is a bad one per se, but rather that the topic of marijuana legalization in particular is such a minefield with decades of intense propaganda, that unless you really define your terms specifically, lots of people really aren’t sure to what they are saying “yes.”

Compare it to the Rasmussen question recently that showed 56% of Americans supporting legalization:

Suppose that marijuana was legalized and regulated so that it was illegal for people under 18 to buy, that those who drove while under the influence of marijuana received strict penalties, and that smoking marijuana was banned in public places like restaurants. With such regulations in place, would you favor or oppose legalizing and regulating marijuana?

How you ask the question, and in what context within the overall survey, makes a big difference.

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Pete Guither is the editor of


June 2012
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