New Zogby data shows a bipartisan consensus that the drug war is a losing battle:
Three in four likely voters (76%) believe the U.S. war on drugs is failing, a sentiment that cuts across the political spectrum – including the vast majority of Democrats (86%), political independents (81%), and most Republicans (61%). There is also a strong belief that the anti-drug effort is failing among those who intend to vote for Barack Obama (89%) for president, as well as most supporters of John McCain (61%).
When asked what they believe is the single best way to combat international drug trafficking and illicit use, 27% of likely voters said legalizing some drugs would be the best approach -- 34% of Obama supporters and 20% of McCain backers agreed.
* One in four likely voters (25%) believe stopping the drugs at the border is the best tactic to battle drugs -- 39% of McCain supporters, but just 12% of Obama backers agree.
* Overall, 19% of likely voters said reducing demand through treatment and education should be the top focus of the war on drugs.
* 13% believe that the best way to fight the war on drugs is to prevent production of narcotics in the country of origin.
At first glance, 27% support for legalization appears disappointing, but a look at the question itself provides a much more encouraging outlook. Respondents were asked to select "the single best way to handle the war on drugs" and here’s the breakdown of their responses:
Prevent production of narcotics at their country of origin: 12.7%
Stopping drugs at the U.S. border: 24.8%
Reducing demand through treatment and education: 18.7%
Legalizing some drugs in the U.S.: 27.5%
Ending the War on Drugs: 8.2%
Not sure/none of the above: 8.1%
Legalization was the most popular answer. Support for interdiction/eradication encompassed only 37.5% of respondents, thus the majority clearly supports some level of reform. I don’t see how you could look at this without concluding that supply reduction strategies lack public support. A smart politician could easily begin chipping away at the most militaristic aspects of the war on drugs without suffering any political consequences.
If there ever existed a tangible political advantage for candidates who play the "tough on drugs" card for votes, those days are behind us. The current political climate favors cutting bad programs and changing business-as-usual in Washington, D.C. The drug war belongs at the top of that list, and while it isn’t there yet, we are undeniably on a trajectory towards a unique moment when the political landscape that sustains prohibition will face re-evaluation. At that point, anything and everything we’ve understood about the politics of drug policy reform could change overnight.
Note: I will begin refering to this concept as "the new drug war politics."