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Narcotics of Politics: The Electoral Behavior of Marijuana Users in the United States

It is common knowledge that drug trafficking is one of the most important concerns in US politics, affecting both internal politics from the standpoint of public health and foreign politics from the perspective of international policy making. Even though narcotic substances have only lately come on the worldwide arena as an issue of both domestic health and international relations in the post-World War II era, the financial expansion of its market and the expanding demand for its use have made it one of the most important factors in determining U.S. policy. 

The initial goal of the U.S. government was to completely eliminate drug trafficking and usage within the country. After failing to accomplish these goals, attention has switched to a more moderate strategy, one that even attempts to decriminalize drug usage to a certain extent. This shift in policy merits examination from both a domestic and an international lens. The worldwide environment of the drug problem has changed, and the United States' reaction to the problem has evolved from a radical to a moderate posture. Even though the worldwide use and legalization attempts of different major drug substances, including marijuana, seems to be an exciting topic for further study, the extent to which drug use can impact the overall decision-making of individuals in terms of their electoral behavior, appears to be a hot debate to what this article aims to contribute significantly. With this purpose in mind, the paper asks the existence and the extent of influence, a state’s prevalence of marijuana has over the electoral behavior observed there during the 2016 and 2020 American Presidency Elections.



The purpose of this article is to conduct an empirical analysis of the available data on the prevalence of marijuana use in each state in relation to the voting patterns that emerged there in the 2016 and 2020 Presidential Elections. To this end, a large-scale quantitative regression will be used in conjunction with two crucial databases to give a convincing explanation for this issue.

Results from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA) every year, will serve as the databases needed for the empirical analysis of the prevalence of marijuana users on a state basis over the time period of this study. Since SAMSHA only discloses such data a long time after the calendar year it corresponds to, we will use the 2014-2015 and 2018-2019 datasets to investigate whether there is a correlation between a state's rate of marijuana consumption and the electoral choice that prevailed there in the most recent two American presidential elections.

On the other hand, we will be utilizing the reports that were made public by the Federal Election Commission (FEC) for the data pertaining to the outcomes of the presidential elections that took place in the United States respectively in 2016 and 2020. Because the American electoral system does not include every state when voting for the Senate, and since it is rather difficult to compile data regarding the electoral outcomes for places in the House of Representatives, the Presidential Elections will serve as the electoral ground on which this research will be conducted.

This study has three main expectations. First is to observe a positive correlation between the prevalence of marijuana consumption in a state with its level of electoral support for the presidential candidate of Democrat Party. Second is to observe a negative correlation between the prevalence of marijuana consumption in a state with its level of electoral support for the presidential candidate of Democrat Party. Based on these two goals, the third and last is to observe a negative correlation between the prevalence of marijuana consumption in a state with the successful candidate there in the presidential elections. The following comparative analysis of the findings of 2016 and 2020 Presidential Elections respectively will allow us to identify the changing impact of our independent variable over three dependent variables of this study.

The article will analyze each election separately to provide a comprehensive evaluation of the relevant data and findings. The data analysis is conducted through STATA following the combination of data acquired from the studies of SAMSHA and FEC. The independent and dependent variables of this study are identified as the following:

Table 1. Independent and Dependent Variables of This Study



Variable Type

Explanation and Data Source


Prevalence of Marijuana Consumption 

Independent Variable

Marijuana Use in the Past Year, by State: Percentages, 2014-2015 and 2018-2019 NSDUHs


Electoral Support for

Democratic Candidate

Dependent Variable

Electoral support for the Democratic candidate by State: 2016 and 2020 Federal Election Commission Data 


Electoral Support for

Republican Candidate

Dependent Variable

Electoral support for the Republican candidate by State: 2016 and 2020 Federal Election Commission Data


Successful Candidate

Dependent Variable

The electoral winner by State: 2016 and 2020 Federal Election Commission Data –

 0 “Democrat” 1 “Republican”

Considering both Democratic and Republican candidates will reflect the party's policy stances on marijuana consumption legalization, it is instructive to investigate the foundational beliefs held by each political group. Furthermore, the exploration of the existing literature is required to create a more robust analytical framework. As a means of accomplishing both of these goals, we will analyze some of the existing material from two vantage points: voter preferences and how political movements conduct their decision-making processes.


Please check the attached file for the full version of this article.

Aybars Arda Kılıçer
Aybars Arda Kılıçer

Aybars Arda Kılıçer is the Editor-in-Chief of TPQ. He previously worked as an Editorial Intern, Associate Editor, and Managing Editor in TPQ. He is also a researcher who is pursuing his academic career in Koç University, specializing in Comparative Politics and International Relations.

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