On Election Day 2016 in California:

  1. A proposition to legalize cannabis won
  2. A proposition to repeal the death penalty lost

The rest of the propositions were mostly liberal, and most of them won; also Democrats won most, if not all, of the elections in the state on that day. That's why I call California "mostly liberal".

I don't understand that. For me, drug legalization is a much more liberal thing than stopping the death penalty. I just can't imagine someone voting to legalize cannabis and keeping the death penalty, but the results show there are quite a lot of them (at least, enough to decide the outcome).

Who are these people? Which demographics vote like that?

  • 14
    Political views cannot be ordered on a line between "conservative" and "liberal", that's is just a very crude approximation. There is absolutely no contradiction in any of the four possible combinations of views on cannabis and death penalty. Hell, even in North Korea cannabis is legal, according to some sources.
    – michau
    Commented Nov 11, 2016 at 10:53
  • 5
    As @michau said, people cannot be reliably modeled by a single-dimensional political model. In political science, multi-axis political models are prefered; whereas more modern morality research uses IIRC 5 ot 6 moral axis models - and obviously, death penalty views would be affected by one's morality outlook and not simply politics.
    – user4012
    Commented Nov 11, 2016 at 11:35
  • 2 challenges for your question. #1 Democrats are not "Liberal"...the majority of other nations conservative parties are significantly more left leaning than American Democrats are. #2 Support for the death penalty is above 50% for American Democrats (deathpenaltyinfo.org/gallup-poll-who-supports-death-penalty), anti-death penalty is not distinctly liberal in belief
    – Twelfth
    Commented Dec 6, 2017 at 19:29
  • @michau IMO your comment is the best answer. You should post it as such. Commented Dec 9, 2017 at 10:22

2 Answers 2


Who are these people? Which demographics vote like that?

Me for one. But more generally, many people under fifty see marijuana as easily available and find it silly for it to be illegal.

Illegal marijuana makes criminals of many regular people who commit no other crimes. Also, legal marijuana produces tax revenue. And because drug dealers are criminals, illegal marijuana makes it easy for them to engage in other crimes, like fencing. That in turn causes additional criminal activity, as they get their customers to commit crimes to provide them with goods to fence.

This is particular to me, but for a long time, I've felt that we should either really enforce drug laws or stop enforcing them. This middle ground of drugs are illegal but everyone knows how to get them is unsustainable.

The death penalty remains more consistent. A majority of Americans of all ages favor it. There isn't this huge divide between older Americans and younger Americans, although support is higher among those over thirty.

It's unclear if lower support for the death penalty represents a change in opinions by generation or if that's just different opinions by age. While death penalty support has fluctuated over time, it's currently about the same as it was in the 1940s. Marijuana opinions seem clearer, as older generations never felt as positively as younger generations do now.


Playing the numbers game a little, but California is not as universally Blue as it appears. While it is true that it tends to go for Democratic and Liberal policies, California has three of the top ten largest cities in the nation (Los Angeles, San Diego, and San Jose) as well as San Francisco (13th) which is a notoriously liberal city. To an outsider, California is often a deep blue state because these votes typically are able to drown out the more conservative/Republican voters that dominate the rest of the state, so in the presidential and senate races, where it is winner take all, California would appear to be blue.

However, one needs only to look at 2016's Presidential vote break down by county to see that California is much more conservative away from the coast (the major coastal city centers are very distinct).

Now, with the referendum issues, this can be further broken down. Politician based voting relies on taking in many different issues and finding a candidate that best encompasses all of those issues in your mind. A referendum on the other hand asks one particular question and that's where you have more troubles. For example, while you may think marijuana legalization to be more liberal, a growing subset of young conservatives (the Generation Z, the oldest of whom just turned 18 for this election, are anticipated to be a quite conservative generation when compared to the Millennial and Gen X), as well as Libertarian (typically socially liberal, fiscally conservative) do favor legalization because the prevailing belief is you should be free to do what you want (that doesn't mean they personally will partake, just that they don't want the government telling them they cannot). So it's possible that the crossover to legalize is much greater than the crossover to repeal the death penalty.

To turn this around, California liberals aren't universally against the death penalty. While I don't have demographics to support that the same thing happen, California's infamous defeat of Prop 8 on referendum voting (legalization of same sex marriage in the state) was a shock at the time, but we now know that several minority blocks in the Democratic base (in this case, African American and Hispanic voters) prefer social policies that appeal to more religious conservatism than to progressive liberalism. What might explain the voting is that the subset of conservatives that are not pro-death penalty (again, typically Libertarians) was not enough to offset the more religious conservative voters on the left. It might also be a case of nuance playing a key role... there are those who are for the death penalty for such cases as an inmate with life in prison who kills a fellow prisoner (how does that victim's family receive justice?).

A last thing is how is the question phrased? Sometimes, the people writing the ballot will make it a little difficult for uninformed voters to properly answer by obscuring what a vote in favor of the question means. I recall from a referendum on same-sex marriage in Florida that the measure did not pass because the the question read like "Are you not not not not not not in favor?" and many couldn't tell if a yes vote was going to legalize same sex marriage or not.

  • "Are you not not not not not not in favor" - This was actually allowed to reach a ballot paper that people were supposed to make a serious choice about? Quite frankly that represents a broken system.
    – Jontia
    Commented Jan 15, 2020 at 13:46
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    @Jontia: It wasn't that word for word, but the way the ballot question was written was so unclear in what a Yes vote would actually do vs. a No vote. It was way too legalize for me to hazard a guess of which vote gave me what I wanted.
    – hszmv
    Commented Jan 15, 2020 at 14:09
  • @hszmv In MA, we send out voting guides, and the description of each proposition ends with "A YES vote means XXX, a NO vote means YYY" -- this usually clears up the confusion.
    – Barmar
    Commented Oct 14, 2021 at 15:27
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    @Jontia Often this results because the proposition is to repeal a law that prohibits something, or to prevent one party from preventing another party from doing something, so you can get lost in this sea of negatives.
    – Barmar
    Commented Oct 14, 2021 at 15:28
  • 3
    A good example is "right to repair" laws. They prohibit the vendor from preventing repair shops from getting manuals they need.
    – Barmar
    Commented Oct 14, 2021 at 15:31

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