Trump suggested that cannabis ballot measures swing elections in Democrats’ favor and, at least in Wisconsin, he may be right.
President Donald Trump hosted a campaign rally in Oshkosh, Wisconsin the same night the Democratic National Convention was scheduled to kick off in Milwaukee. While Democrats instead opted for a virtual conference to avoid spreading the coronavirus, Trump drew a crowd of at least 1,000 people.
In off-the-cuff remarks, Trump suggested to Republicans that if they wanted to win elections, they had to keep cannabis legalization off the ballot. Though the Trump Administration has attacked cannabis reform in behind-closed-doors proceedings and by blocking legislative action, this is the first time the President has made negative comments about cannabis in public.
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“The next time you run please don’t put marijuana on the ballot at the same time you’re running,” Trump said at the rally. “You brought out like a million people that nobody ever knew were coming out.”
The comments were directed at former Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who was among the crowd and was ousted in the 2018 mid-term election by Democratic challenger and current Gov. Tony Evers. But the 2018 gubernatorial race was heated with just over one percentage point of total votes separating Evers and Walker.
However, statewide legalization wasn’t on the Wisconsin ballot in 2018. Instead a number of local advisory questions appeared in 16 counties, which all voted affirmatively they would support recreational or medical cannabis reform. But these voter approvals were non-binding and only serve to gauge public sentiment on a given topic.
These ballot measures were placed there by elected officials in those individual counties. Walker had no role in placing them on the ballot, as Trump suggested. Data suggests those measures may have tipped the gubernatorial race Evers’ favor. Official results show Evers gained significant votes in those 16 counties with marijuana measures when compared to the Democratic challenger in the 2014 gubernatorial race. Considering Evers only defeated Walker by 30,576 votes, those ballot questions likely made the difference.
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However, this does not represent new political gamesmanship by Democrats. Because mid-term elections often draw smaller voter turnouts, as explained by Senior Brookings Institute Fellow John Hudak, both Republicans and Democrats often use ballot measures to motivate people to the booth.
A recent Fresh Toast poll asked readers which presidential candidate would more likely legalize cannabis if elected this year. Results were split almost 50-50, with Democratic nominee Joe Biden slightly edging out Trump.