June 14, 2012
In 2004 George W. Bush’s re-election campaign worked to put anti-gay marriage ballot initiatives up for vote in several swing states in order to turn out more hard-core conservatives to the polls. This year the question is whether marijuana legalization measures will turn out young voters for Obama.
Bush’s plan to use gay marriage bans — in states that did not actually allow gay marriage — as a turnout booster led to signs featuring icky public restroom symbols proliferated and liberal panic that the Christian right had taken over. The press obsessed over “values voters.” One of Bush’s aides, Ken Mehlman, who later came out as gay himself, has apologized for the strategy, two others say it didn’t work.
This year there’s another incumbent president with modest approval ratings who could turn out his base with controversial ballot measures. But this time, the issue features no biblical or scatological imagery. In 2012, voters in swing states will decide whether they’ll allow their fellow citizens to bear joints. Unlike the gay marriage votes, there’s no indication that Obama’s re-election team is behind any of the pot legalization initiatives, but there are Democrats who are hoping that it will boost turnout among weed’s biggest fans: young people.