Building Progressive Coalitions in South Dakota


I’m getting very interested in the voter breakdown in South Dakota right now, because I think it suggests ways in which we can build progressive coalitions in this state.  Here’s a bit from the New York Times Election 2008 South Dakota page (broken into smaller paragraphs for ease of reader digestion, and added emphasis my own):

South Dakota has voted Democratic for president just four times since statehood, in 1896, 1932, 1936 and 1964. But it was fairly close in five of the seven elections between 1972, when South Dakota’s George McGovern was the Democratic nominee, and 1996, when Bill Clinton came within 3 percent of winning.

In 2000 the cultural liberalism and environmental policies of Al Gore were far from popular here, and George W. Bush carried the state 60 percent to 38 percent. Gore carried only Indians, a rising but small percentage of the electorate, and ran even among the elderly, but the percentage of voters who remembered Franklin D. Roosevelt was on the wane.

In 2004 Bush once again carried the state 60 percent-38 percent; he carried every county except those containing Indian reservations and the University of South Dakota. Bush’s share of the vote declined by 0.4 percent, making South Dakota the only other state besides Vermont where his percentage fell. Bush’s share of the vote increased in the Sioux Falls area and most of eastern South Dakota, but fell in West River, where outrage against Clinton-Gore environmentalism had cooled.

His biggest drops were in Indian reservation counties, where Democratic registration drives vastly increased turnout in 2002 and 2004. He lost Shannon County in the Pine Ridge Reservation by 1,415 votes in 2000 and 3,040 votes in 2004. [4 November 2008]

What this emphasized section suggests to me is that fear at/anger over environmental policies is waning overall in the state–especially if those environmental policies add to our state economy and infrastructure by boosting ethanol production (OK–not getting into the fact that ethanol isn’t very environmentally friendly), but especially in West River (where corn production is quite low) looking at wind power development and possibly production of more drought tolerant species of grasses for cellulosic ethanol.

You can’t really understand the politics of South Dakota without understanding the East River/West River split, nor can you figure it out without looking at our sizable Native population.  There are a lot of other little bits and pieces to this puzzle that I’m going to attempt to parse out, too, within the next few days.

It’s easy to look at the influence of college and university locations and reservations, but what about groups like the Hutterites and Mennonites along the eastern side of the Missouri River, the German-Russians in the Northeast central region (that is, German immigrants who came from the Black Sea area of Russia–don’t mistake them for actual Russians!), the Irish Catholics in the Southeast, the Scandinavian Lutherans throughout? Don’t forget the Dutch and the Czechs!

South Dakota isn’t so much a melting pot as a stew with different-sized chunks, where the overall flavors permeate the other parts to a greater or lesser degree.  There is still a lot of ethnic pride in this state, and it still has some effect on the poll numbers.  With so much information readily available on the internet, I think we can look at numbers and groups and voting preferences and trends and start to build some real progressive coalitions based on shared ideals.

Please feel free to chime in with any trends or issues you’ve noted.

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