March 07, 2016

Poll: Voters support medical marijuana, split on casual use

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Voters in Illinois show overwhelming support for medicinal marijuana use, but less than half support legalization for recreational use, according to a new poll conducted by Southern Illinois University Carbondale’s Paul Simon Public Policy Institute.

The sample of 1,000 registered voters was surveyed Feb. 15-20 and has a margin of error of 3.1 percentage points.

When asked whether they favor or oppose legalized medicinal marijuana in Illinois, 82 percent of those express support for the policy. Only 16 percent oppose and 3 percent did not know or answered otherwise. 

Currently there is a four-year pilot program in Illinois for the use of medical marijuana. That program is due to expire in 2018.

Overall support for medical marijuana has increased dramatically -- by 19 percentage points -- and opposition cut in half since a 2013 institute poll asked a similar question.  The 2013 poll showed 63 percent support and 32 percent opposition.  The 2013 poll was taken before the current medicinal marijuana pilot program was in effect.

Support is less strong on the question of recreational marijuana. Fifty-one percent oppose legalization of recreational marijuana while 45 percent said it should be legal.

“We see clear support for medicinal marijuana, but recreational use is a mixed bag,” David Yepsen, institute director, said. “Medical use, recreational use, and decriminalization are all related but are still distinct public policy issues in the minds of many voters.  They are likely to be issues in the debate over criminal justice reform, new revenues and public health.”

Support for medicinal marijuana is strongest with younger voters. Among voters younger than 35 years old, 90 percent favor medical use.  Only 8 percent of those under 35 oppose medicinal use and 2 percent answered otherwise.  On average, older voters were also supportive but not as strong.

Younger voters are also much more supportive of legal recreational use than older voters. Among those younger than age 35, 72 percent support and 24 percent oppose.  Support significantly decreases among people over 65 years old, with only 29 percent in support. 

 “These data show that substantial support for medical cannabis can be found in every demographic, and that support has substantially increased in the last few years. Another result to pay attention to is the heavily skewed support for recreational marijuana among millennials,” Delio Calzolari, institute associate director, and one of the poll designers, said.

The poll also gauged attitudes toward gay marriage and abortion.

  • On the issue of marriage equality, 53 percent stated that gay and lesbian couples should be allowed to legally marry and 25 percent said same-sex couples should be allowed to form civil unions, but not marry. Sixteen percent said there should be no legal recognition of same-sex relationships.

The U.S. Supreme Court declared that same-sex couples have the right to marry in a 5-4 decision.  Illinois began recognizing same-sex marriage in 2014 and civil unions in 2011.

*      On the question of abortion rights, 44 percent of Illinoisans said that abortion should be legal in certain circumstances and 36 percent said that abortion should be legal in all circumstances. Fifteen percent stated that abortion should be illegal in all circumstances.

The poll has tracked public opinion on those two social issues since 2009.  The attached charts plot the shifts in Illinois public opinion over that time. 

Poll results are available here

For more information, contact Yepsen at 618/453-4009 or Calzolari at 618/453-4001. 

On Tuesday, March 8, the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute will present results and analysis of these and other survey questions from the latest Simon Poll of Illinois voters.  Topics will include the Illinois presidential primary; public opinion on the direction of the nation and state; the state budget and taxes; government reform; treatment of veterans; and other social issues.  Doors open at 6 p.m. and the program will begin at 7 p.m. at the Varsity Center for the Arts, 418 S. Illinois Ave., Carbondale. The event is free and open to the public, but registration is required to Carol Greenlee at 618/453-4078.

The margin of error for the entire sample of 1,000 voters is plus or minus 3.1 percentage points. This means that if we conducted the survey 100 times, in 95 of those instances, the result would be within plus or minus the reported margin for error for each subsample. 

Live telephone interviews were conducted by Customer Research International of San Marcos, Texas, using the random digit dialing method. Potential interviewees were screened based on whether they were registered voters and quotas based on area code and sex (<60 percent female). Interviewers asked to speak to the youngest registered voter at home at the time of the call. Cell phone interviews accounted for 40 percent of the sample. A Spanish language version of the questionnaire and a Spanish-speaking interviewer were made available.

Fieldwork was conducted from Feb. 15 through Feb. 20.  No auto-dial or “robo” polling is included.  Customer Research International reports no Illinois political clients. The survey was paid for with non-tax dollars from the Institute’s endowment fund. Crosstabs for the referenced questions will be on the Institute’s polling website,

Simon Institute polling data are also archived by three academic institutions for use by scholars and the public. The three open source data repositories are: the University of Michigan’s Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research (OpenICPSR;, the University of North Carolina’s Odum Institute Dataverse Network (, and the Simon Institute Collection at OpenSIUC ( 

Note: The “Paul Simon Public Policy Institute Poll,” the “Simon Poll” and the “Southern Illinois Poll” are the copyrighted trademarks of the Board of Trustees of Southern Illinois University. Use and publication of these polls is encouraged -- but only with credit to the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at SIU Carbondale.