Will California Legalize Pot? So Far, the Polling’s Been Hazy

July 28, 2010 1:45 p.m.

Polling on Proposition 19 — a California ballot initiative that would legalize marijuana — has started to pick up. Three polls from July, including a PPP poll (PDF) released Monday, bring the total number of Prop 19 polls up to six. So, what’s the verdict thus far? Will California be the first state to legalize non-medicinal weed?

At the moment, it’s still anyone’s guess — the polling is enough to make anyone dazed and confused. Monday’s PPP survey found voters supporting the initiative 52%-36%, and a SurveyUSA poll from two weeks ago showed support outweighing opposition by 10 points. But a Field Poll released earlier this month showed support lagging 44%-48%, while a Reuters/Ipsos poll from late June found support statistically tied with opposition, 48%-50%. What gives?Writing on FiveThirtyEight yesterday, Nate Silver suggested that the discrepancies in the polling so far might be explained by the different methodologies of the various pollsters. As Silver points out, automated surveys have shown wide margins of support for Proposition 19, while results from surveys conducted with live interviewers have depicted a much tighter race. “What if voters are more likely to admit their tolerance for marijuana to an automated script, which may create the feeling of greater anonymity?” Silver asks. “Automated polls might also provide a setting for voters to be more honest about their feelings on marijuana use.”

Elena Fanjul-Debnam, an analyst at PPP — whose recent automated poll showed a wide margin of support for Prop 19 — seconded Silver’s conclusion. “I think IRV [automated polling] is more accurate because people aren’t always forthcoming about their opinion when they’re talking to somebody and they don’t know who’s on the other side of the line,” Fanjul-Debnam said. “They’re more likely to tell the truth to an automatic pollster.”

One seeming constant in all the confusion? Democrats are more likely to back Prop 19 than Republicans. The latest PPP poll shows 62% of Democrats — but only 37% of Republicans — supporting the measure, and the other polls have reported comparable numbers.

The TPM Poll Average for Prop 19 shows support exceeding opposition 50%-43%. The polling may be still be hazy, but there’ll be more to come — it’s only July.

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