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Everyone Agrees That Weed Is Great — Except Politicians

Welcome to Pollapalooza, our weekly polling roundup. Today’s theme song: “Benson” from the television show “Benson” in honor of the show’s star, Robert Guillaume, who passed away earlier this week at the age of 89.

Poll of the week

A Gallup poll released Wednesday found that a record high 64 percent of Americans favor legalizing marijuana. It follows other surveys published this year also showing that a clear majority of Americans support making marijuana consumption legal. But what’s most interesting about the Gallup survey is that it found that a majority of Americans of all political stripes are for legalization.

Gallup found that 72 percent of Democrats, 67 percent of independents and 51 percent of Republicans support marijuana becoming legal. This makes marijuana one of the least polarized issues of our time (and one that some political party might be smart to take advantage of).1

Issues such as abortion, gun control and health care find Democrats and Republicans so far apart that it’s hard to win over many voters of the other party when adopting a stance popular with your own party’s voters. Marijuana isn’t that way.

And yet, despite the clear bipartisan appeal of marijuana, it has only been approved for recreational use in eight states and Washington, D.C. Neither Democrat Hillary Clinton nor Republican Donald Trump came out in favor of recreational marijuana purchases during the 2016 election. Trump’s attorney general, Jeff Sessions, has actually taken a harder-line stance on marijuana than recent administrations, including criticizing states that have made it legal.

Democrats and Republicans might be slow to fully support recreational marijuana because, despite it being broadly popular, supporters don’t feel all that strongly about it. Only 31 percent of Americans “strongly” favored legalization in a 2016 PRRI poll, despite 63 percent being in favor overall. My own 2014 study of marijuana ballot measures suggested they don’t raise young voter turnout, even though young voters were the most likely to favor legalization. Just 28 percent of Americans told Marist College in March 2017 that they would be likely to buy and use marijuana if the federal government legalized it. (Of course, some people may be unwilling to tell a pollster this.)

Yet it’s also probable that politicians simply haven’t caught up to public opinion on the issue. As we saw with same-sex marriage just a few years ago, Democratic officials were slow to warm to the idea of legalization even when the vast majority of their party and a majority of the public were in favor. In the case of marijuana, politicians are probably unaware of how fast the ground has shifted. In 2003, only 35 percent of Democrats and 20 percent of Republicans supported making weed legal. Those numbers have since skyrocketed.

The question going forward is whether politicians of either party are willing to recognize the trend and take advantage of it electorally.

Other polling nuggets

  • In a voluntary online Military Times survey, 47 percent of enlisted service members hold a favorable view of President Trump compared with 31 percent of officers. Nearly 1 in 4 troops in the same poll said they’ve seen examples of white nationalism among their fellow soldiers.
  • Just 16 percent of Americans held a favorable view of GOP Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in the latest Harvard-Harris Poll. That makes him the least popular national political figure tested. A majority (56 percent) of Republicans want him to resign as majority leader.
  • African-Americans who live in majority-black neighborhoods have very different perceptions of discrimination than black Americans who don’t, according to a new Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health survey. For example, 66 percent of black residents of majority-African-American areas say African-Americans are “often” discriminated against where they live in interactions with police because of their skin color. Just 49 percent of black Americans in nonmajority-African-American areas say the same.
  • A majority of Americans say Trump will be remembered as either one of the worst presidents ever (42 percent) or below average (16 percent), according to a Marist College poll released last week. A mere 7 percent said he would go down as one of the best.
  • Former President George W. Bush, on the other hand, is experiencing a type of resurgence: 50 percent of Clinton voters and 73 percent of Trump voters said in a new Fox News survey that they held a favorable view of Bush.
  • While we usually concentrate on the differences between Democrats and Republicans, the 2017 Pew Research Center typology report reveals that even within each party, major divisions remain on key domestic and foreign policies. You can take the quiz to see where exactly you line up on the ideological spectrum.
  • Provo, Utah, Mayor John Curtis, a Republican, holds a 46 percent to 19 percent lead over Democrat Kathie Allen in a Dan Jones poll ahead of a Nov. 7 special election to represent the state’s 3rd Congressional District, whose seat was vacated by Republican Jason Chaffetz. Trump won the district by 24 percentage points in 2016 (with a strong showing by independent conservative Evan McMullin), while Mitt Romney took it by 59 percentage points in 2012.
  • Florida Sen. Bill Nelson is barely leading Republican Gov. Rick Scott in a hypothetical 2018 GOP Senate primary, according to a University of North Florida survey. Nelson was up 37 percent to 36 percent. A Mason-Dixon poll had them tied at 44 percent.
  • Just 24 percent of voters said they would cast a ballot only for a candidate who shares their views on gun control, according to a Gallup poll. A clear majority, 61 percent, said it was one of many issues they’d consider.
  • More voters — 37 percent — told the Remington Research Group that they wanted the Houston Astros to defeat the Los Angeles Dodgers in this year’s World Series, while 25 percent said they preferred the Dodgers to win.

Trump’s job approval rating

Trump’s job approval rating has fallen to 37.5 percent; his disapproval rating has risen to 56.7 percent. That’s a bit worse than last week, when his approval rating stood at 38 percent, and his disapproval rating was at 55.8 percent.

The generic ballot

Democrats have widened their lead over the Republicans on the generic congressional ballot. Democrats are up by more than 13 percentage points, 48.6 percent to 35.5 percent. That’s up from the 48.1 percent to 37.6 percent edge they held last week and is the largest lead Democrats have held on the tracker since we started it in April.


  1. The chart below uses Gallup’s data on marijuana and the Pew Research Center’s recent data on other policies.

Harry Enten was a senior political writer and analyst for FiveThirtyEight.