Analysis: Ohio seems poised to approve abortion rights and legalize marijuana, polling shows
This fall, Ohio voters seem to be in the mood for change.
Polling on the two statewide issues on the Nov. 7 ballot suggest, very strongly, that both Issue 1, an amendment placing abortion rights in the Ohio constitution, and Issue 2, which would legalize the recreational use of marijuana, will be approved by Ohio voters.
And not by just a little bit. By a lot.
A new Ohio Pulse poll conducted by Baldwin Wallace University's polling center shows that, if the election were held today, 58.2% would vote yes on Issue 1, while 33.5% are opposed and 8.2% are undecided.
That finding is consistent with other polling on the abortion rights issue. During the summer, a USA Today/Suffolk University poll on abortion rights had 57.6% of Ohioans in favor.
Both sides of the abortion issue, from one end of the country to the other, will have their eyes on what Ohio voters do with Issue 1.
"This is probably the most closely watched ballot measure in the nation for November 2023," political analyst Louis Jacobson wrote in this week's Sabato's Crystal Ball, a highly regarded weekly publication of the University of Virginia's Center for Politics.
The same Baldwin Wallace poll shows that Issue 2, which would legalize a set amount of marijuana for personal use and allow the state to collect tax revenue from the sale of it, would pass with 57.4% of the vote, while 35.1% are opposed.
"We're pretty confident in these numbers,'' said Thomas Sutton, director of the Baldwin Wallace polling center.
"These are two issues that are very personal to a lot of voters,'' Sutton said. "They aren't like the usual ballot issues where people are voting on some change to the law that may not affect them."
The Ohio Republican Party has been urging a no vote on both statewide ballot issues. The Ohio Democratic Party has endorsed Issue 1 but has been silent on the marijuana issue.
Issue 2 has been a quiet campaign, unlike eight years ago, when private interests — basically a marijuana monopoly — spent more than $20 million on a campaign to legalize recreational marijuana, complete with an anthropomorphic costumed cannabis plant named Buddie prancing around Ohio's university campuses.
It failed miserably.
The 2015 monopoly crowd is gone, replaced this year with more low-key supporters, who haven't spent a dime on TV advertising. All the campaigning we have seen is on social media and in the form of yard signs urging a yes vote.
Republican figures such as Gov. Mike DeWine and Attorney General Dave Yost are speaking out against Issue 2, but little money has been spent by the opponents either.
The Baldwin Wallace poll shows that majorities in almost every demographic group support legalizing marijuana — political parties, gender, age, race, religion, and education level. Half of Republican voters polled said they would support it, along with an astonishing 47% of evangelical Christians.
If Issue 2 passes, Ohio will become the 24th state to legalize marijuana for personal use. And Michigan will no longer be able to rake in tax revenue from Ohio people driving north to buy their weed.
David Niven, professor of political science at the University of Cincinnati, said "the numbers that jumped off the page of that poll were the ones that showed how broad the support was."
"We are only a few decades away from a time when a story about a politician smoking marijuana as a kid could end a political career," Niven said.
He pointed to the "absurd dance" presidential candidate Bill Clinton had to do in 1992 when he had to admit he had smoked some joints but said, inexplicably, that he "didn't inhale." People were dubious to say the least.
Then there was the case of appeals court judge Douglas Ginsburg, who was chosen by President Ronald Reagan for a vacant Supreme Court seat in 1987. Ginsburg had to withdraw after an NPR story about his marijuana use years before while in law school.
"Poor Judge Ginsburg," Niven said. "People would just shrug their shoulders at a story like that today. Using marijuana just doesn't seem radical to people anymore.
"Young voters can't believe marijuana was made illegal in the first place," Niven continued. "Older voters just don't care. They have other things to worry about."
Taken together, the poll results on Issues 1 and 2 show a disconnect between how Ohio voters feel on those issues and the politicians they support, Niven said.
"One of the signs of a political apocalypse is where voters vote one way on issues and another way on candidates," Niven said. "They vote for people who don't believe in the same things they believe in. Very odd."
In this election, the abortion rights amendment is the one which has attracted millions of dollars in ad money on both sides, with much of it pouring in from national advocacy groups outside of Ohio.
The money, though, seems mostly aimed at getting voters on one side of the issue or the other motivated enough to go out and vote in an off-year election.
Most voters are already locked in on their position on abortion rights, Niven said.
Niven sees irony in the fact that that Baldwin Wallace poll places support for abortion rights just under 60%.
In August, Ohio Republicans forced a special election to decide one issue — a constitutional amendment that would have raised the threshold for passing future constitutional amendment from a simple majority to 60%.
Ohio Republicans wanted the measure to make it almost impossible for abortion rights groups to pass what became Issue 1 on this November's ballot. They failed miserably — Ohio voters saw through the ruse and rejected it by a large margin.
It was seen nationally as Ohio's proxy vote on abortion rights.
"The Republicans outsmarted themselves," Niven said. "If that 60% issue had passed, Issue 1 might well be defeated. But the 60% vote in August made a big difference."
If Ohio voters don't approve Issue 1, they will be bucking a trend that has been apparent since the Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade in June 2022.
Since then, six states — Michigan, Kentucky, California, Montana, Kansas, and Vermont — have voted in favor of abortion rights in statewide elections.
Red states. Blue states. It doesn't matter. They have all supported abortion rights. And Ohio could be on the verge of becoming the seventh.
There's really no reason to believe that Ohio will break the string.