Problematic Pot Polling in Alaska Makes Race Too Close To Call

In the run up to the 2014 midterm elections, a lot of media coverage has been focused on Florida’s effort to legalize medical marijuana and Oregon’s effort to legalize recreational marijuana. However, there is one other U.S. state that is fighting to legalize recreational marijuana: Alaska.

Not much attention has been paid to Alaska since most of the campaign money up for grabs this cycle is flowing into Florida and Oregon. Consequently, what we see happening in Alaska is a lot more low key and also way too close to call. The polls this year have been all over the place.

In March, the Alaska State House of Representatives released its Annual Caucus Statewide Issues Poll. According to the poll, 52 percent of Alaskans support Measure 2, which would legalize marijuana in Alaska; 44 percent opposed Measure 2 and 2 percent of respondents were undecided. Then in August, polls took a turn. A survey conducted by Public Policy Polling had 44 percent of Alaskans supporting Measure 2, 49 percent in opposition, and 7 percent undecided

If those two polls aren’t enough to make you scratch your head, fast forward to October where, according to Alaska Dispatch News, two competing polls reveal two completely different answers. One poll, conducted by Dittman Research, showed 53 percent of Alaskans oppose Measure 2, 43 percent support it, and 4 percent are unsure. The second poll, conducted by pollster Ivan Moore, found that 57 percent of Alaskans support Measure 2, 38.7 percent oppose it, and 4 percent are undecided. How on earth are these people reaching two different numbers?

The answer to that question: it depends on how you conduct your polling. When Alaska Dispatch News reached out to Dittman Research about the discrepancy, lead pollster Matt Larkin slammed Moore for the phrasing of his polling questions. “When you ask Alaskans whether they ‘favor or oppose’ and then insert a phrase referencing the protection of constitutional rights, you have significantly biased the question,” Larkin wrote in an email.

“The question is what the question is. Those are the results with the questions asked. You can draw your own conclusions,” Moore responded. So what is the difference between the two polling questions? Let’s take a look.

Ivan Moore Polling: There is an initiative on the general election ballot that would tax and regulate the production, sale and use of marijuana in Alaska. Criminal penalties would be removed for adults over the age of 21 who possess up to an ounce of marijuana, and constitutional protections allowing home cultivation would be preserved.

*Note: Moore’s “question” is not actually a sentence in the interrogative form.

Dittman Research: Ballot Measure 2 is a bill that would tax and regulate the production, sale and use of marijuana in Alaska for people 21 years of age or older. The bill would allow a person to possess, use, show, buy, transport or grow set amounts of marijuana. If the election were held today, would you vote for this initiative to become law — Yes or No?

Dittman Research’s phrasing is indeed a little more transparent, but Moore’s phasing isn’t that much worse. Surely phrasing isn’t the cause of the discrepancy, right? Alaskan voters are definitely smart enough to tell the difference. And, with a little online research, Ivan Moore will pop up in the comments section of AmberCoyne.com, a blog dedicated to Alaskan politics, where he has his own explanation.

According to Moore, the reason for the discrepancy is due to how both pollsters took their sample. With Moore’s poll, out of 568 respondents, “310 respondents were surveyed on landlines … these people voted the pot initiative DOWN by 43-53 … 258 respondents were surveyed on cellphones … these folks voted FOR it by 61-35 … since about 94% of people in Alaska have a cellphone and only 53% or so have a landline (and often a defunct one at that), the cell measure is by FAR the more accurate.”

So which is it? Phrasing or polling procedures? It is hard to tell. What these polls truly reveal is the truth in the old adage, “What the thinker thinks, the prover proves.” The poll conducted by Dittman was funded by anti-marijuana PAC “Big Marijuana. Big Mistake. Vote No on 2,” and the poll conducted by Ivan Moore was partially funded by the “Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol in Alaska.” It is amazing how when you set your mind to something, you can accomplish any result you desire.

Things are heating up in Alaska as we creep into November. The confusing poll numbers mean that this race is anyone’s game, which makes the election a lot more exciting. Despite being outspent 12-1, pro-cannabis reformers are fighting the good fight and hanging in there. Even though the election is too close to call, capital-flush investors may want to start looking to Alaska; come November, a whole new market may be opening up.

 

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