Calculating the correlations between demographic variables and referendum choice was made difficult by the Electoral Commission’s decision to put the ballots from different electorates into the same box on Election Day. At every polling booth, the referendum ballots for both General and Maori Electorates were put in the same box, and as such we can’t accurately account for how many people in each electorate voted in favour.
The special referendum votes were broken down by electorate, but the total number of such votes was less than 20% of the number of ordinary referendum votes, and so they are not particularly representative of the New Zealand population as a whole. They also don’t overcome the problem that the Maori population is split between the General Roll and the Maori Roll, and so no meaningful correlations between referendum choice and ethnicity can be calculated.
Despite these limitations, we can see the data accurately enough to notice some clear patterns. Five significant trends are apparent.
In short, the major opposition to cannabis law reform in New Zealand is the same people who oppose it everywhere else: old, poorly-educated, religious, antisocial conservatives, i.e. those who fall for fear-based propaganda the hardest and who act to harm other people the most readily.
All of the age groups 34 years old or younger were significantly positively correlated with a will to reform the cannabis laws. This was true both for the ordinary referendum votes and the special ones. The correlation between being aged 20-24 and casting a special vote for Yes in the cannabis referendum was 0.66. Many of these voters would have been young people who enrolled to vote on Election Day.
All of the age groups 45 years old or above were negatively correlated with a will to reform the cannabis laws. As above, this was true both for the ordinary referendum votes and the special ones, although the correlations were only significant in the case of special votes. With the special votes, every age group 45 years old or above was significantly negatively correlated with voting Yes in the cannabis referendum.
Most strikingly, all of the age groups 55 years old or older had negative correlations stronger than -0.50 with casting a special vote for Yes in the cannabis referendum.
The pattern is unmistakable, and easy to explain. Old people who have been brainwashed for decades with Reefer Madness-style anti-cannabis propaganda are generally against it. Young people who have real-world experience with cannabis and who have observed its effects in their friends and/or parents are generally in favour of it.
Another trend is immediately apparent when we look at the correlations between voting Yes in the cannabis referendum and maximum educational achievement. The better educated a person is, the more likely they are to support cannabis law reform.
Belonging to any one of three most poorly-educated groups of people in the country was significantly negatively correlated with voting Yes in the cannabis referendum. By contrast, having any university degree was significantly positively correlated with voting Yes. The strongest correlation was between doctorate degree holders and casting an ordinary vote for Yes – this was 0.56.
The one anomaly in the data – the significant positive correlation between having level 3 NZQA as a highest qualification and voting Yes in the cannabis referendum – can be easily explained. These people are mostly intelligent young people who are at university but are yet to get a degree. So they’re mostly intelligent enough to understand the science of cannabis, but not old enough to have a degree yet.
The reason for the strong correlation between education and pro-cannabis sentiments is fairly obvious. Understanding the effects of cannabis is essentially a scientific enterprise. Those educated enough to understand science understand that cannabis is medicinal. Those not educated enough to understand science have to rely on what they’re told, which is usually by people not educated enough to understand the science.
Education is, at the end of the day, little more than a mental toolbox for determining truth from bullshit. An educated person will be equipped to appraise data and to decide for themselves what is true and what isn’t.
Those unequipped to make such determinations are forced to rely on dictates from authority figures, such as the television or the local priest. Doing so is extremely inaccurate, and is often completely misleading. Those who put themselves forwards as authority figures, and those who are presented as authority figures by the media, are often people with a vested interest in telling lies.
Unfortunately, the cannabis referendum was a national IQ test, and we failed it.
Many people fail to appreciate the extent to which hating cannabis users is a religious, particularly an Abrahamic, attitude. It was largely Christians who enforced cannabis prohibition in the first place, and it’s largely Christians who argue to continue enforcing it. As such, a significant majority of people who voted No in the cannabis referendum were Christian.
The truth is that cannabis is a spiritual sacrament, and has been used as such for thousands of years. Throughout all time and space, Christians have always sought to destroy all other religious and spiritual traditions, and they have destroyed spiritual practices based around cannabis use in the same way they destroyed spiritual practices based around psilocybin mushroom use.
Christians can’t burn spiritual freethinkers at the stake anymore, but they can still vote for them to be persecuted. And they do, in great numbers. The fact that Christianity is an ideology of hatred is seldom more evident than in the strong negative correlations between being Christian and voting Yes in the cannabis referendum. A correlation of -0.53 between being Christian and casting an ordinary vote for Yes in the cannabis referendum lays bare what many already knew: Christians hate cannabis users.
Buddhists, Hindus and Muslims were generally indifferent to the question of cannabis law reform. This reflects the fact that there are two opposing forces at play in these cultures: the conservative, control-based mentality and the liberal, experience-based mentality. Many voters in these groups, being relatively recent immigrants, are caught between two worlds, unsure of what to accept and what to reject.
Spiritualists and New Agers were the big losers from the referendum result. New Age religion is very fond of cannabis on account of that it facilitates meditation. Spiritualists also like cannabis for the same reason that Rastafarians do: they believe that it enables them to reconnect with God. This explains the strong positive correlation of 0.58 between following Spiritualism or New Age religions and casting an ordinary vote for Yes in the cannabis referendum.
The significant positive correlations between being Jewish and voting Yes in the cannabis referendum are no doubt because of the higher educational attainment of Jews, i.e. most of them voted Yes because they understand the science behind cannabis.
The fourth apparent trend in the data is that occupations and industries with a lot of human contact tended to vote Yes in the cannabis referendum, while occupations and industries without much human contact tended to vote No.
This mostly reflects differences in empathy. People in social occupations tend to be more open, more closely attuned to other people’s suffering and more sympathetic towards the measures those people take to reduce it. They are also much more likely to support recreational drug use in general, and much less likely to support government measures to interfere in other people’s lives.
There were significant positive correlations between voting Yes in the cannabis referendum and being a professional (0.51) or being a community and personal service worker (0.35). This reflects the fact that people in these occupations are intelligent and empathetic. In the case of professionals, it also reflects a superior reasoning ability.
There were significant negative correlations between voting Yes in the cannabis referendum and being a machinery operator or driver (-0.42) or being a technician or trades worker (-0.33). This might reveal a working-class social conservatism, but more likely follows from the fact that these occupations cannot be performed safely while stoned, and so people in them are concerned about the person next to them being under the influence of cannabis while working.
These correlations, between choice of unsocial occupations and voting No in the cannabis referendum, were replicated with choice of industry.
People in social industries heavily supported cannabis law reform, and this was also true of people in creative industries.
There was a significant positive correlation between casting an ordinary vote for Yes in the cannabis referendum and working in Arts and Recreation Services (0.60), Accommodation and Food Services (0.47), Information Media and Telecommunications (0.47), Public Administration and Safety (0.46), Professional, Scientific and Technical Services (0.37) or Education and Training (0.29).
People in industries that are (generally speaking) neither social nor creative heavily opposed cannabis law reform.
There were significant negative correlations between casting an ordinary vote for Yes in the cannabis referendum and working in Manufacturing (-0.58), Wholesale Trade (-0.56), Transport, Postal and Warehousing (-0.42), Construction (-0.38) or Retail Trade (-0.25).
The major distinction here is not obvious, but it is striking, and perhaps summarises the entire cannabis law reform debate: voters working in industries that are focused on people supported cannabis law reform, while voters working in industries that are focused on things generally opposed cannabis law reform.
The fifth apparent trend in the data involves the strong positive correlations between voting for progressive parties and voting Yes in the cannabis referendum, and the strong negative correlations between voting for conservative parties and voting Yes.
Unsurprisingly, voting for any of the parties that campaigned specifically for cannabis law reform had the strongest correlations with voting Yes on the cannabis referendum. Casting an ordinary vote for Yes in the cannabis referendum had a correlation of 0.85 with voting for the Greens in 2020, and 0.74 with voting for The Opportunities Party in 2020. The correlations with casting a special vote for Yes and voting for these parties were only slightly weaker.
Cannabis law reform supporters will be invigorated by the fact that the correlation between voting Labour in 2020 and casting an ordinary vote for Yes in the cannabis referendum was significantly positive, at 0.36. This suggests that a significant majority of Labour supporters want legal cannabis and so Labour, if they take the will of those supporters into account, should change the law.
National and the New Conservative Party, who explicitly campaigned against cannabis law reform, had the least cannabis-friendly voters. The correlation between voting Yes in the cannabis referendum and voting National in 2020 was -0.50, and with voting New Conservative in 2020 it was -0.46. To a large extent, this reflects the fact that those voters are old, and in the case of New Conservative voters it also reflects a lack of education.
Many will be surprised by the significant negative correlations between voting ACT in 2020 and voting Yes in the cannabis referendum. David Seymour wrote about his support for cannabis law reform in Own Your Future, and openly stated before the referendum that he was voting Yes. ACT is also associated with libertarian urban types who are generally favourable towards drug use of all kinds. So understanding why their voters oppose cannabis law reform is not straightforward.
The reason is that many of the people who voted ACT in 2020 voted National in 2017, and are still conservatives at heart. They voted ACT in 2020 mostly to protest the National Party leadership of the time, and are not really libertarians. This is supported by the fact that ACT voters were much, much older in 2020 than they were in 2017.
The weak correlations between voting for the Aotearoa Legalise Cannabis Party and voting Yes in the cannabis referendum will also surprise many.
First it has to be understood here that ALCP voters are very few in number, and represent the top 1% most fanatical about cannabis in the entire country. Second, many of these cannabis fanatics were unhappy with the Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill because they either felt that it didn’t go far enough, or because they didn’t want the cannabis industry to become commercialised. So many of them cast No votes despite supporting cannabis law reform in general.
Their reasons might sound paradoxical, but nothing about the cannabis debate has been rational from the beginning.
This article is an excerpt from the upcoming 3rd Edition of Understanding New Zealand, by Dan McGlashan and published by VJM Publishing. Understanding New Zealand is the comprehensive guide to the demographics and voting patterns of the New Zealand people.
If you enjoyed reading this essay, you can get a compilation of the Best VJMP Essays and Articles of 2019 from Amazon for Kindle or Amazon for CreateSpace (for international readers), or TradeMe (for Kiwis). A compilation of the Best VJMP Essays and Articles of 2018 and the Best VJMP Essays and Articles of 2017 are also available.