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Poll: Marijuana proposal support high, redistricting muddled

Jonathan Oosting
The Detroit News
The Board of State Canvassers approved a petition Thursday for a ballot proposal that would legalize recreational marijuana in Michigan.

Lansing — A majority of likely Michigan voters favor a recreational marijuana initiative on the Nov. 6 ballot but nearly one-third are undecided about a separate proposal for a citizen redistricting commission, according to a new poll. 

The Sept. 5-7 survey of 600 likely voters for The Detroit News and WDIV-TV suggested marijuana Proposal 1 would have passed by a comfortable margin had the election been held last week.

Support was muddled for Proposal 2, suggesting a challenge for redistricting organizers and activists who want to create a commission to draw new political boundaries every 10 years instead of lawmakers. Roughly 38 percent of voters were supportive, 31 percent were opposed and 31 percent of remained undecided nine weeks from the election. 

More than 56 percent of respondents said they support marijuana legalization, compared with 38 percent opposed. Only 6 percent of voters were undecided in the poll, which had a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

“What’s interesting is how consistent these numbers have been over two years,” said pollster Richard Czuba of the Lansing-based Glengariff Group Inc., which conducted the survey.  “There are hardly any undecided people left on this issue. It’s baked into the electorate.”

The survey began before the Board of State Canvassers on Friday finalized language for the marijuana measure, which will appear as Proposal 1 on the Nov. 6 ballot. Voters were not asked about the specific ballot wording.

Polls reflect a snapshot of voter sentiment at a specific time and do not predict election outcomes. Roughly 43 percent self-identified as Democrats, 37 percent as Republicans and 20 percent as independents.

Views on marijuana legalization do not appear to be driven specifically by partisanship. Instead, age appears to be most predictive factor for support.

Just 37 percent of voters over the age of 65 said they support legalization compared with 79 percent for 18-29 year olds and about 72 percent for 30-39 year olds.

Most Democrats told pollsters they would vote for legalization, compared with 49 percent of those who lean Republican and 41 percent who self-identified as strong Republicans.

Scott Greenlee, head of the Healthy and Productive Michigan opposition committee, said he was not surprised by the poll results but said other surveys have shown “this issue is far from decided.”

Voters “are certainly going to hear from us and many of the people in their own communities as we get closer to Election Day,” Greenlee said, “whether that’s faith leaders, medical experts or parental organizations."

Smart Approaches to Marijuana, a national group based on Virginia, contributed $275,000 of the $277,645 the opposition group had raised through July 20. Greenlee said the committee is “counting on some corporate partners to support the cause,” noting opposition by the Michigan Chamber of Commerce and other business groups.

While he declined to discuss campaign strategy, Greenlee said the opposition group  “is going to fight this at every level we possibly can and are confident about being able to educate voters this is not the way to go.”

A spokesman for the Michigan Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, which is leading the legalization effort, said the new poll results track pretty closely with the group’s internal numbers.

“We’ve been saying all along that this is an issue that’s time has come,” said Josh Hovey. “People understand that prohibition has been a failure and continued enforcement is a waste of law enforcement resources and our tax dollars.”

Prop 2 a mystery to voters

While a small plurality of Michigan voters support creating an independent commission to redraw legislative and congressional district boundaries each decade, the initiative appears to lack the 50-percent-plus support organizers often seek before launching campaigns.

Ballot proposals often lose support when opponents mount aggressive "vote no" campaigns. This has not yet happened with Proposal 2 despite vocal criticism from the Michigan Republican Party and conservative groups. 

“The real challenge is most voters don’t have any clue what it’s about,” Czuba said. “There’s a third of voters who just have no clue what this is.”

The survey asked voters about the concept of a redistricting commission, not specific language that will appear on the ballot, and could be crucial if voters head into the voting booth confused about the proposal.

“What we know from the experience of other states that have passed redistricting reforms is that the more people know, the more likely they will be to support Proposal 2,” said spokeswoman Elizabeth Battiste. “We feel confident that when voters hear our message that voters should pick their politicians and not the other way around, undecideds will vote yes.”

The Voters Not Politicians committee, which built an army of grassroots activists to collect petition signatures, began advertising in late July and has knocked 100,000 doors across the state, Battiste told The Detroit News.

But with less than 60 days until the election, the group has a lot of work to do to educate voters, Czuba said. GOP lawmakers controlled the redistricting process after the 2000 and 2010 U.S. Census, and “I would expect to see the Republicans mount a strong challenge to this proposal,” he added.

Partisan differences

The poll showed striking partisan differences on the proposal, which organizers call an anti-gerrymandering effort. The commission would include four Democrats, four Republicans and five self-identified independents under a process overseen by the secretary of state.

Democrats generally support the concept, according to the poll. Independent and voters who lean Republican were evenly split, but 20 percent of strong Republicans said they support an independent commission, compared with 38.5 percent opposed.

An opposition group called Protect My Vote that formed last month and fought proposed ballot language has not been actively campaigning against the measure and did not immediately respond to voicemails seeking comment. 

Tony Daunt, executive director of the conservative Michigan Freedom Fund, said his group opposes the measure and has been reaching out to grassroots activists. But as of now, opponents have not formed a coalition to fight the proposal.

"I think that there are various interests who are opposed to this and if a path develops for opposition would be happy to take that," he said, noting the Freedom Fund has criticized the proposed commission selection process, potential costs and exclusions for political workers that would extend to their families. 

The survey did not ask voters about a third proposal from the Promote the Vote committee that the Board of State Canvasser sent to the ballot last week. The measure would allow no-reason absentee voting, straight-ticket voting and expand registration options.

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Proposal 1: Marijuana

Support legalization 56%

Oppose legalization 38%

Undecided 6%

Proposal 2: Redistricting

Support commission 38%

Oppose commission 31%

Undecided 31%

Note: Sept. 5-7 poll of 600 likely Michigan voters. Margin of error: plus-minus 4 percentage points.

Source: Glengariff Group