…but at least we’re less polarized!
Sioux Falls lawyer and lobbyist Justin Smith tweeted this graphic showing relative partisan polarization of state legislatures in 2015:
— Justin Smith (@justingsmith) September 17, 2017
South Dakota’s Republican-dominated Legislature not polarized? How does that compute? Does the absence of an effective opposition pole mean we don’t count as polarized?
I check the source, Measuring American Legislatures, a blog maintained by political science professor Boris Shor of the University of Houston and politics and public affairs professor Nolan McCarty of Princeton. As Shor explained when he and McCarty first released their data in 2014, polarization is “the average ideological distance between the median Democrat and Republican in the state legislature.”
In their 2011 paper “The Ideological Mapping of American Legislatures,” Shor and McCarty said South Dakota, Alaska, and Idaho anchored the conservative end of the political spectrum… and that was based on data from 2002. With the decline in Democratic legislators and voter registration, as well as the ouster of Democrats from all three of our seats in Washington, it seems safe to contend that South Dakota has not become more liberal in either the 2002 data or the 2011 Shor/McCarty paper.
Shor and McCarty also used South Dakota to illustrate the wide variety in ideological medians among states:
One of our most striking findings is the tremendous variation in polarization across states. This manifests itself in the variance of party medians and the extent of overlap of party distributions within states. There is also a large amount of overlap among the party medians across states. For example, the Democratic party in Mississippi is more conservative than the relatively liberal Republican parties of Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, and Rhode Island. The liberal Republicans of New York locate to the left of relatively conservative Democratic parties in Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, and West Virginia. Despite the historical decentralization of the American party system, it is surprising that this much overlap remains [Boris Shor and Nolan McCarty, “The Ideological Mapping of American Legislatures,” American Political Science Review, August 2011, 105:3, p. 537].
South Dakota Democrats, more conservative than New York Republicans—there’s your lack of polarization in South Dakota. Contrary to the SDGOP spin blog’s persistent efforts to foment fears that liberal extremists have taken over the South Dakota Democratic Party, South Dakota Democrats have run so far past the center to the right that Professors Shor and McCarty see less difference between them and South Dakota’s extreme right-wing Republicans than they see between the Democrats and Republicans in most other state legislatures.
Dems, listen to your track coach: Run hard, turn left!