Poll: Mississippians and politicians at odds over marijuana, Medicaid

Published 11:44 am Tuesday, June 8, 2021

By Geoff Pender


A new poll says a majority of Mississippi voters not only want the Legislature to create a medical marijuana program like the one the state Supreme Court nullified, but they favor allowing recreational use of pot.

Nathan Shrader, chair of government and politics and director of American studies at Millsaps, said the poll shows a vast divide between Mississippi voters and politicians on marijuana and other issues.

The latest State of the State survey by Millsaps College and pollster Chism Strategies reports that 63% of those polled want the Legislature to enact something “mirroring” Initiative 65 — a medical marijuana constitutional amendment that voters passed overwhelmingly last year but the state high court shot down. It reported that 52% of those polled support recreational marijuana legalization, with 37% opposed.

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The poll reported that 20% said legalizing medical marijuana is the most important issue in how they’ll vote in the next statewide election.

The poll also reported that 52% of Mississippians support expanding Medicaid to cover roughly 200,000 working poor Mississippians. A move to put this before voters was also derailed by the recent Supreme Court ruling that declared the state’s ballot initiative process constitutionally flawed because of outdated signature-gathering rules.

Despite years of debate and fizzled attempts, lawmakers have balked at allowing medical use of marijuana or at accepting federal dollars to expand Medicaid despite growing movements to do both. The divide has typically fallen along partisan lines, with the supermajority GOP leadership thwarting both efforts.

“Mississippi voters overwhelmingly support legalizing medicinal marijuana, which was actually done by the electorate last November,” Shrader said. “They also favor legalizing marijuana for recreational purposes and expanding Medicaid by healthy margins. If
you look closely at what the voters are expressing in terms of their policy preferences, you will see they do not appear to be anywhere near the same ideological positions as the majority of the state’s elected officials. The coming months, including the 2022 legislative session, will be a test of how long the state’s elected leaders can hold positions that are greatly at odds with the majority of Mississippi’s voters.”

The poll, part of a continuing quarterly survey since 2017, was conducted May 26-28 with a sample size of 659 via cell phone and landline, weighted to reflect voter turnout in 2020 elections. The margin of error is reported at 3.82%.

The poll also reported:

  • 38% of voters believe the state is heading in the wrong direction, while 34% think the state is moving in the right direction. Just over 28% are unsure.
  • A 28-point gap exists between those who approve and disapprove of the state Legislature’s performance, with 49% disapproving and 21% approving of their work. 30% are unsure.
  • 48% disapprove of the performance of Gov. Tate Reeves, while 35% approve and 17% are undecided.
  • 64% of voters who favor expanding Medicaid do so because they believe too many Mississippians are unable to get access to the healthcare coverage they need.
  • Opponents of Medicaid expansion are almost evenly split between their concern of becoming overly dependent on Washington, D.C., and those who think expansion is too expensive for taxpayers.
  • 55% support Gov. Reeves’ decision to opt out of federal unemployment benefits that provided an additional $300 to help Mississippians who lost their jobs due to the pandemic. 35% oppose the decision, while 10% are unsure.
  • Less than a quarter of those who have not already received the COVID-19 vaccination say they are likely to get vaccinated, while 61% of those who are unvaccinated say there is nothing that will convince them to get the vaccine.
  • Nearly 40% of voters want the census-driven congressional and legislative redistricting process this year to be conducted by a non-partisan commission of citizens and experts.
  • 24% would like a hybrid panel of citizens and elected officials, 15% think redistricting should continue to be handled by the state legislature, and 22% are unsure.
  • 60% support the job police are doing in their local communities, and nearly 75% believe police should have pay raises.