Poll: Medical marijuana legalization has support of SC voters

SC voters say the oppose legalizing online gambling.

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCIV) - There is widespread support among South Carolina voters to legalize marijuana for medical uses. That's according to data from a recent ABC News 4/Post and Courier poll.

When asked if marijuana should be legalized for medical purposes, voters across party lines, age, race, gender, ideology, and geography supported the measure.

Six in 10 Democrats, nearly 7 in 10 Independents, and almost half of all Republicans supported the legalization of marijuana.

"That's a national trend. It seems like every year there are states out there changing their policies. So that could be something that's a change in South Carolina down the line," said College of Charleston Political Science Department Chair Gibbs Knotts.

According to the ABC News 4/ Post and Courier poll, a majority of South Carolina voters across racial, gender, and geographical backgrounds support legalizing marijuana for medicinal purposes.

The poll also shows that voters in three of four age groups - aged 18-44, 45-54, and 55-64 - all support the measure by a majority. For voters over the age of 65, there's only an 8-point gap between those who oppose legalizing marijuana and those who support it.

Geographically, the Midlands hold the highest support for legalizing marijuana, but both the Upstate and the Lowcountry still support the measure by a majority, the poll shows.

"South Carolina had a debate about that this past session, took a small step toward legalizing for medicinal use, but didn't go as far as some advocates had hoped," said Post and Courier veteran political reporter Robert Behre. "This is a debate that will likely continue and advocates of legal marijuana might ultimately win in the near future."

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Online gambling faces fierce opposition

When South Carolina voters were asked if they supported the legalization of online gambling, two-thirds of voters said they were against the effort.

"We're a conservative state, a religious state, so it's not terribly surprising that two-thirds of the people oppose online gaming,"Knotts said.

What's more, a majority of voters across party lines, ages, ideologies, races, gender, and geographical area all oppose the measure.

The poll shows that as voters age, their support for online gaming wanes even more. According to the poll, 56 percent of voters between the ages of 18 and 44 oppose online gambling. By the time voters are over the age of 65, that opposition rises to 79 percent.

But the question was vague, Knotts points out, saying it didn't give voters a reason to legalizing online gambling. He said the measure may have picked up more support if voters knew the money raised would have gone to education or infrastructure projects.

Behre agreed.

"Legalizing online gaming would presumably bring in money to the state's coffers, money for programs that could eventually bring support for that,"Behre said. "That said, I don't see any policy change in that direction anytime soon."

The best support for legalizing online gambling comes from liberal independents, but only about 1 in 4 of them support online gambling.

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Tax reform a touchy subject for SC voters

When asked if they support an increase in the state sales tax as a way to raise revenue and eliminate the income tax, the state's voters are lukewarm on the issue.

"This idea of increasing the sales tax to eliminate the income tax, we've got some good examples from other states: Florida doesn't have an income tax; Tennessee doesn't have an income tax," said Knotts.

But it appears South Carolina voters are hesitant to follow other states' leads.

Forty percent of voters said they supported the measure, but another 34 percent said they opposed it. What's more, 1 in 4 voters said they were undecided on the issue.

"The state tax code has been sort of a favorite whipping boy of state political figures for years. The problem is: how do you get rid of one tax without replacing the revenue with another?" asked Behre.

The best support for increasing the sales tax comes from Republicans, 46 percent, and Independents, 40 percent. Even then, a quarter of Republicans and one-third of Independents are undecided.

Meanwhile, 42 percent of Democrats oppose it.

Whites support increasing the sales tax more than non-whites, but even then the support is soft. The polling by race maintains the overall picture of the question with 43 percent in favor of increasing the sales tax and 25 percent undecided.

The best support for the measure comes from the Lowcountry with the Midlands within the margin of error. The Upstate is most divided with 38 percent for it and 36 percent against it.

Knotts said changing the tax policy so that state revenue is dependent upon sales taxes creates a burden on people with lower incomes. He likens it to groceries - everyone has to go grocery shopping, but people who make $30,000 per year will feel the pinch more than someone making $300,000 per year.

"And even if you don't necessarily bring in more revenue overall, if you raise one tax to phase out another you could still be open to the charge of raising taxes," said Behre.

"That's made tax reform a very tricky and slippery animal," he said.

The poll was commissioned by ABC News 4 and the Post and Courier along with WYFF in Greenville, and WACHFox in Columbia. It was conducted by Voter Survey Service, a division of Susquehanna Polling and Research, from July 7-13 with 1,000 registered voters and July 16-20 with an additional 650 registered voters.

In order to be eligible to complete the survey respondents had to first indicate their likelihood of voting in the upcoming general election for Governor and U.S. Senate on Tuesday, Nov. 4. The full results include results from an automated system and live agent interviews to gather information from younger voters or people using only cellphones.

Each day this week, the Post and Courier and ABC News 4 will release more data from the Voter Survey Service poll, including information on U.S. Senate races, the direction of the state, and how big issues in other states are considered in South Carolina. ABC News 4 will release more information every night at 6 p.m. with follow-up coverage in the Post and Courier each morning.

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