Harvard's Institute of Politics is out with a new survey of the political attitudes of millennials, which is drawing attention because of the warning signs for Democrats in the upcoming midterm elections (which my colleague Paul Bedard has summarized). But I also was intrigued by the study's counterintuitive findings on young Americans' attitudes toward marijuana legalization.
Some of the findings are to be expected. A plurality of millennials who were polled support marijuana legalization and Democrats support legalization by a 21-point margin, while Republican millennials oppose it by an 18-point margin. But a further breakdown of the numbers was a bit counterintuitive.
I would have expected that that the younger, college-age cohort would be more likely to be pro-legalization. Yet according to the poll’s findings, while older millennials (ages 25 to 29) support legalization by an overwhelming 22-point margin, younger millennials (ages 18 to 24) were quite torn on the issue, with 38 percent supporting legalization, 39 percent opposing it, and 22 percent unsure.
Another interesting finding came on race. Statistics showing blacks are far more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession are regularly cited by both critics of the drug war and by those highlighting racial bias in the American criminal justice system. Interestingly, however, while white millennials backed legalization by a 17-point margin, African Americans were divided, with 38 percent supporting the idea and 36 percent opposing it.
A Washington Post writeup of its poll of residents of the District of Columbia released in January noted that, "In the past, many older black residents have opposed legalization out of the fear that it could lead to addiction among black youths. Those fears are reflected in the poll. Just 40 percent of black respondents ages 50 and older favor legalization, compared with 73 percent of younger black residents." So it's interesting that the Harvard study — which was national — reached such different conclusions when it came to younger black Americans.
Without more detailed research, I wouldn’t wager a guess as to what is driving these results, but it is notable.