As Congress considers legislation that would decriminalize marijuana and end the sentencing disparity for crack and cocaine offenses, Galen Druke speaks with FiveThirtyEight contributor Lester Black on this episode of the FiveThirtyEight Politics podcast about what Americans think should be done about drugs and how politicians are responding.So the Democrats in Congress are on board, but, despite former House Speaker John Boehner being in favor of legalization along with a slim majority of Republican voters, most Republican lawmakers are not. FiveThirtyEight asks Why Do GOP Lawmakers Still Oppose Legalizing Weed?
So why exactly, then, aren’t more congressional Republicans representing their own voters’ views on this issue? One possibility is that many of these lawmakers simply don’t know how much Republicans’ opinions have changed. Political science research shows that politicians tend to overestimate their constituents’ support for conservative policies, with Republican lawmakers driving much of this phenomenon. Some congressional Republicans may therefore oppose federal legalization because they mistakenly believe they’re representing their own voters’ views.This presents an opening for Democrats.
Other members, however, are likely voting based on their own personal opposition to marijuana legalization. Compared with most Americans, congressional Republicans tend to be older and more religious, two demographic groups that are far more averse to legalization than younger and religiously unaffiliated Americans. Indeed, GOP politicians often oppose drug legalization on behalf of conservative principles like morality, order and family values.
Regardless of the reasons, though, Democrats would be wise to make congressional Republicans’ opposition to marijuana legalization an issue in the upcoming midterm elections. As I noted two years ago, not only is legalization popular across the political spectrum, but political science research shows that it’s also one of the more important issues to Democrats, Republicans and independents. Every 4/20, in fact, it becomes more and more apparent that marijuana legalization is a winning political issue.Here's to the Democrats taking advantage of this issue.