It was big news Tuesday when Gallup released a poll showing that a record high 58% of Americans believe marijuana should be legalized. But the proof that a majority of Americans are in favor of cannabis legalization is, as I wrote earlier this year, simply not there yet. Take the Gallup poll, and the trend in it over the past few years. It looks like a rollercoaster – 46% thinking it should be legal in 2010, 50% in 2011, 48% in 2012 and 58% in 2013. I tend to doubt support jumped 10 percentage points in one year. Usually trends on social issues are more linear, as with gay marriage.
A look at other polling confirms that Gallup’s survey, and the rapid change it showed, has a better chance of being an outlier than not. Of the three other polls taken this year, only Pew’s found a majority who believe use of marijuana should be made legal. Pew’s 52% was far less than Gallup’s 58%, and it, at least, followed the more linear trend of support building slowly over a few years that one might expect.
Indeed, a look at the broader range of polling suggests that over the past few years, public opinion on legalizing marijuana has stayed mostly steady:
• ABC News/Washington Post (2009-2012): 46%, 46% and 48%
• Angus Reid (2009-2012): 53%, 52%, 55%, 52% and 54%
• CBS News (2009-2012): 41%, 31%, 41%, 44%, 40%, 45% and 47%
The important finding to take away here is that while some polling has a majority in favor of marijuana legalization and some doesn’t, there isn’t much change in the numbers found by each individual pollster; what variation there is tends to be what one would expect from sampling error.
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