In the weeks leading up to Election Day, the fate of Ballot Measure 2, which would legalize marijuana in Alaska if approved by voters, seemed far from certain. So, it was with great relief that pro-legalization advocates watched the first results arrive Tuesday, showing the measure passing. And supporters believe what tipped the balance in favor of legalization may have been an unlikely voting bloc: conservatives.
Taylor Bickford, spokesman for the Campaign to Regulate Alcohol Like Marijuana, said that heading into Tuesday, Alaska still seemed like a question mark despite predictions earlier in the year that made the measure's passage seem like a sure bet.
"We felt like we ran a good campaign, were on the right side of the issue, but polling on the issue was all over the map," Bickford said. "It very much felt like a coin-flip going into election night."
That faded as election results trickled in. The first returns showed the measure up by 5 points, a lead it never relinquished as the night wore on.
The campaign noted that Ballot Measure 2 was approved by more voters than any other winner in a statewide race. There were 116,803 votes cast in favor of the measure, about 1,000 more than went to Rep. Don Young's re-election and 6,600 more than U.S. Senate candidate Dan Sullivan, who is leading over incumbent Sen. Mark Begich.
Bickford attributed the win in part to the campaign's efforts to target conservative voters. Early support for the ballot measure seemed high but appeared to dip as the election neared. Bickford said in a "red" state with a high-profile Senate race, getting those conservative votes was critical.
He also noted that despite targeted efforts from the anti-legalization campaign in rural Alaska, that portion of the state generally favored the measure, with most Northwest, Northern and Interior Alaska precincts voting for legalization. Conservative strongholds like the Matanuska Valley and the Kenai Peninsula generally voted against the issue, as did the liberal-leaning Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta.
"This was an issue that cut across partisan and geographic boundaries and brought together urban voters, rural voters and voters of various demographics," he said.
Mason Tvert, director of communications for the Marijuana Policy Project, said a win in right-leaning Alaska bodes well for states like Arizona and Nevada that are expected to take on similar legalization efforts in 2016. Overall, he attributed the win to changing perceptions more than anything else. He said adults in their 60s and older spent much of their lives hearing about the horrors of marijuana. Conversely, younger people have had less exposure to that and view legalization as a topic worth discussing.
"Now young people will grow up knowing it's legal for some states, and they will view it more reasonably," Tvert said.