2002 Nevada Ballot Issues Identify The 6% Swing Voters Who Will Decide the November 2, 2004 Presidential Election, Which Will Be Very Close

   The Sunday, May 16, 2004 papers bring news of a Newsweek Poll that shows George W.  Bush's job approval ratings hitting the lowest level of his presidency.  Bush's overall approval rating is 42%.  His approval rating of how he has handled Iraq has dipped to 35%.

   Despite these doubts, the same poll shows Bush and his rival, Democratic Senator John F. Kerry virtually tied in either a two-way or a three-way race with egomanic Ralph Nader.  Culture issues explain this apparent discrepancy.

   In  Nevada in 2002 there were two hot button life-style questions which received the highest number of votes in the election. 

   The first was a proposal to allow the legalization and taxation of less than 3 ounces of marijuana for adults over the age of 21.  This question received 196,371 (39.13%) Yes votes to 305,497 (60.87%) No votes ;  for a total turnout of 501,850 of  the 512,433 ballots cast in the election.

   The second question, running just 80 votes behind, was a proposal limit marriage to a man and a woman only.  This issue received 337,197 (67.20%) Yes votes to 164,573 (32.80%) No votes ; for a total 501,770 of the 512,433 ballots cast in the election. 

   There is no way to underestimate the significance of the 80 vote spread between the 501,850 votes cast on the marijuana legalization issue and the 501,770 votes cast on the marriage between a man and a woman issue.  It is extremely rare for ballot issues to exceed the turnout for statewide candidates.  The races for the House of Representatives received 499,908 votes.  The third highest Nevada question, authorizing $200 million of conservation bonds for water, open space, historic and cultural preservation, received only 491,405 votes.  Although the Governor's race theoretically was the highest with 504,079 votes, Nevada allows voters to cast ballots for "None of the Above."  Consequently, there were only 480,405 votes for candidates for Governor. Those 80 voters prove that drugs are a more important political issue than gay marriage.

   As a general rule, those voters who opposed legalizing marijuana favored marriage between a man and a woman only ; while those who favored legalizing marijuana also were more lenient toward gay marriage.  However, there were 31,798 more votes for legalizing pot than there against limiting marriage to a man and a woman only.  And there were 31,700 more votes for limiting marriage to a man and a woman than there were against legalizing marijuana.

   However, there were 10,534 more votes cast in the election than were cast for the legalizing marijuana question.  Theoretically, those 10,534 people could have then voted in the gay marriage question and a different 10,663 people sat out that question.

   Under this most extreme set of assumptions, this means that at least 10,503 voters had to have cast ballots in favor of both legalizing pot and limiting marriage to a man and a woman only..  So, this 2.04%, or 1 in every 50 voters, will end up determining the election in 2004.  All this shows is that at least 2% of the voters mathematically had to vote for legalizing pot and limiting marriage to men and women only, but as a practical matter, given the fact that the vote totals for the ballot questions were only 80 votes apart,  that the difference between the  legalize pot and oppose limiting marriage to men and women only ;  and oppose marijuana legalization and support marriage between a man and woman only was 31,700 and 31,798 votes respectively ;  as a practical matter, the true percentage of these swing voters is about 6% or probably even higher.  Current polls confirm these numbers.

   These are the swing voters who are going to decide the 2004 election, the people who want to legalize pot but keep gay marriage illegal.  It will be difficult for either Bush or Kerry to appeal to this group without damaging his core base.  The more Bush depicts Kerry as a liberal, the more this legalized pot group will gravitate to Kerry.  And the more Kerry depicts Bush as a right-winger, the more this anti-gay marriage group will gravitate to Bush.

   The great thing about the 2004 election is going to be that the more the major candidates try to energize their core supporters, the more they will alienate the critical 6% of swing voters who will decide this election; because the overriding objective of every voter, regardless of political persuasion, is to ensure that his or her vote and every vote counts.  The closer the race, the more each vote counts.

Lifestyle Issues and the Revival Draft

   One reason elections are becoming harder to predict is specifically because of these lifestyle issues.  Not everyone is politically consistent (correct) in these things.  Here at the Institute of Election Analysis, we think that one of the dominant issues in the November election, probably not emerging until well after Labor Day, is the revival of the draft.

   The biggest loser in the Iraqi disaster is the all-volunteer, privatized military.  Iraq shows that even a nation as rich as the United States can not economically afford an all volunteer military if it ever gets into a war where large numbers of soldiers are needed to conquer and control another country.

   The atavistic military response to the death, incineration and display of the corpses of the so-called private American contractors which sparked the siege of Falluja, and the yet to be revealed role of the private contractors in the Abu Ghraib interrogation scandal that has disgraced the United States and undermined the Iraq mission, proves that war is no place for private, profit-making civilian employees whose acts and omissions at the least must prompt a response from the military and at the most can jeopardize the security of the country and its citizens.

   Once the issue of reviving the draft comes along, all the collateral lifestyle issues like drafting women, women in combat, drafting gays, etc. will come roaring back into the political debate.  Many gays will demand the right to be drafted.  Both men and women will split on drafting females into the military and combat.  Kerry will probably be have to be in favor of reviving the draft, given his personal history of volunteering for Vietnam, and Bush will probably be opposed, given his history of ducking active combat as a young man..  Given that kind of debate, it will be impossible to predict how any given individual will vote in the end, and many will wait until the very last minute to decide.  The electorate will be volatile, the polls will show the race too close to call.  It will be a roller-coaster ride all the way to the balloting on November 2nd, 2004.

   Who wins this election will depend, more than in most recent elections, on external events over which neither candidate has any control.  Registering voters and getting them to the polls is what the 2004 election is all about.

Return to Institute of Election Analysis Home Page

Contact: Joshua Leinsdorf