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Living Wages, Legal Weed, Taxes on the Rich: Statewide Initiatives that Ran Ahead of Either Biden or Trump

Do popular ballot measures point to a bipartisan platform for progress?

FORT LAUDERDALE, FLORIDA - MAY 23:  People gather together to ask  the McDonald’s corporation to raise workers wages to a $15 minimum wage as well as demanding the right to a union on May 23, 2019 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.  The nation wide protest at McDonald’s was held on the day of the company’s shareholder meeting. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

People gather together to ask the McDonald’s corporation to raise workers wages to a $15 minimum wage as well as demanding the right to a union on May 23, 2019 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

Joe Raedle/Getty Images

The dust is settling on the 2020 election, and all eyes are understandably focused on the presidential result — which at last check had President-Elect Joe Biden beating Donald Trump by more than 5 million votes and on track to record a 306-232 victory in the electoral college. But some items on the ballot ran well ahead of either candidate: Progressive ballot initiatives proved wildly popular — even in states where Biden lost.

Typically, down-ballot races and initiatives get fewer votes than the top of the ticket, as some people leave their ballots unfinished. But in 2020, many initiatives are proving more popular than even the respective presidential winners in their states, receiving tens- or even hundreds of thousands more votes than Biden or Trump. The success of these state initiatives points to the possibility of a bipartisan agenda that is broadly progressive — one that includes higher wages for hourly workers, legal recreational marijuana, renewable energy mandates, enhanced digital privacy, reduced partisanship in redistricting, higher taxes on the wealthy, and limits on the ability of those same rich people to influence elections.

Below we break down state measures that outperformed the presidential winner on the ballot:


Arizonans appear to have flipped their state blue for Biden. But voters in the Copper State found a pair of ballot initiatives more appealing than either Biden or Trump. As of Thursday morning Biden was showing 1.6 million votes. The statewide initiative to legalize marijuana stood at 1.9 million votes, or nearly 60 percent, while an initiative to raise taxes on incomes above $250,000 a year to boost teacher salaries and support education was running ahead of the Democrat by about 4,000 votes.


Florida was a disappointment for Biden, as south Florida votes shifted decisively for Trump, who at last check claimed 5.7 million votes. But an initiative to raise the state’s minimum wage to $15 stood at 6.4 million votes, or about 61 percent.


Nebraska was a split decision in the electoral college, giving one vote to Biden thanks to his performance in the congressional district anchored by Omaha. But in total Trump has recorded 551,499 votes, about 59 percent of the the vote. But Nebraskans were far more eager to set interest limits on payday loans (713,793, votes or 83 percent) and to revise the state constitution to ban slavery and involuntary servitude as criminal punishments (594,083 votes).


The Silver State is narrowly in Biden’s win column with 671,955 votes and counting for the Democrat. A measure requiring the state to hit 50 percent renewable electricity by 2030 is winning with 707,636 votes.


Michigan was a key swing state, giving Biden a victory with 2.8 million votes. But state voters were more united behind a digital privacy measure: 4.4 million voters, nearly 89 percent, backed a constitutional amendment to require a warrant for authorities to access Michiganders’ electronic data and communications.


A measure to legalize medical marijuana passed in Mississippi, and this pro-pot measure is currently outpacing Trump’s count by 689,840 votes to 677,218.

New Jersey

New Jersey’s support for Joe Biden was never in question, but voters endorsed legal weed even more heartily. There are significant numbers of ballots left to be counted, but Biden now has 2.3 million votes, while recreational cannabis is approaching 2.5 million votes.


Oregon is a blue state that cast 1.3 million ballots for Biden, who won 57 percent of the vote. A constitutional amendment to enable campaign finance limits, in a state that has had none, was far more popular, receiving 1.7 million votes or 78 percent. 


Virginia is no longer a swing state and Biden took 2.4 million votes or about 54 percent in carrying the state. A measure to create a nonpartisan redistricting commission, taking legislative boundary drawing out of the hands of partisans, won with 2.8 million votes.


What’s clear in these results is that a progressive agenda has bipartisan appeal, and that Democratic politicians who don’t champion issues like living wages and legal weed in particular may be leaving votes on the table. In a previous 2020 post-election analysis, we looked at how the Green New Deal can be part of a winning electoral agenda for Democrats.

At least one newcomer to the House, Representative-Elect Cori Bush of Missouri, is encouraging fellow progressive Democrats to campaign proudly on their agenda.

Rolling Stone featured Bush in our recent Next Wave series: watch that interview here.


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