More than half of the state’s registered voters believe marijuana should be legalized in the state, according to the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll.
Overall, 53 percent of the state’s voters would legalize pot either in small amounts (30 percent) or any amount (23 percent). Another 31 percent would legalize marijuana only for medical purposes. Only 16 percent said possession of marijuana should remain illegal under any circumstances.
That majority hides significant differences. While two-thirds of Democrats would legalize marijuana for nonmedical uses, only 39 percent of Republicans would do so.
“Texas is going to be slow, but it’s going that way,” said Daron Shaw, a government professor at the University of Texas at Austin and co-director of the poll. “In some ways the handwriting is on the wall, and it’s pretty clear. Public opposition is diminishing, and if the economic or tax arguments change, it’s hard to see what would keep pot from getting on the agenda.”
Younger registered voters are more likely than their elders to support legalization. Only 40 percent of registered voters over 65 would approve legal marijuana, while 56 percent of Texans between 30 and 64 years of age and 59 percent of adults under 30 would end the state’s current prohibitions.
On a closely related issue, a large majority of Texans — 69 percent — would support reduced penalties for possession of small amounts of pot. Only 21 percent were opposed to that proposition, which the poll phrased this way: “As you may know, currently, the maximum penalty for possession of small amounts of marijuana can include up to 180 days in jail and/or a fine of up to $2,000. Would you support or oppose reducing punishment for possession of small amounts of marijuana to a citation and a fine of $250?”
That reflects an increasingly permissive attitude even among conservatives. At their recent state convention, Texas Republicans adopted a similar plank for their platform: “We support a change in the law to make it a civil, and not a criminal, offense for legal adults only to possess one ounce or less of marijuana for personal use, punishable by a fine of up to $100, but without jail time.”
Younger Texans might be pushing the issue, but age alone isn't driving the changes in public opinion.
“We’ve seen this movement take place in a much shorter period of time than the age differences would produce,” said Josh Blank, manager of polling and research at UT-Austin’s Texas Politics Project. He noted that support for medical marijuana has remained relatively stable over several UT/TT polls, even as Texans' permissiveness has shifted from "never."
Texans are open to legal betting on sports, an issue sparked by a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling against a federal prohibition on such gambling, but large numbers are still undecided about the issue. While 40 percent of voters would legalize it, almost as many — 36 percent — were undecided. And there are significant distances between women’s and men’s attitudes. Only 29 percent of women said they would support legal sports betting and about as many — 26 percent — oppose it. The other 45 percent haven’t decided. A quarter of men were also undecided, but 54 percent said they would support legalized sports betting.
Texans overwhelmingly support the death penalty for people convicted of violent crimes, but not as strongly as they did in a UT/TT Poll in February 2015. In the current poll, 65 percent of registered voters said they support capital punishment, down from 75 percent two years earlier.
Democrats account for the shift: Where they favored the death penalty 61 percent to 32 percent in 2015, they are now split 46 percent to 42 percent. Republicans have hardly budged: 85 percent support it now, compared with 88 percent in 2015.
“Historically, Democratic attitudes in Texas were more conservative than in the rest of the country,” Blank said. “What this shows is that Texas Democrats are moving more in line with national attitudes among Democrats.”
Online voter registration
Democrats are much more likely than Republicans to support allowing Texans to complete their voter registration forms online. Overall, 57 percent of voters like the idea, but that’s driven by the 77 percent of Democrats who support it. Republicans are divided, with 41 percent in favor and 37 percent saying they oppose online registration.
“It is a partisan issue, whatever the rationale,” said Jim Henson, co-director of the poll and head of the Texas Politics Project at UT-Austin. “When we ask people if we should make it easier for people to register to vote, and you add ‘online’ to it, you see Democrats embrace it and a little more reluctance among Republicans. They still support it, but in a much more reserved way.”
The University of Texas/Texas Tribune internet survey of 1,200 registered voters was conducted from June 8 to June 17 and has an overall margin of error of +/- 2.83 percentage points. Numbers in charts might not add up to 100 percent because of rounding.
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