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Clinton, Sanders Fail to Energize South Dakota Democrats

Yesterday’s South Dakota primary results bode ill for Democrats.

South Dakota Democrats picked Hillary Clinton by Bernie Sanders, they didn’t do so as enthusiastically as they chose Clinton over Barack Obama in 2008.

SD Primary Votes Percent
Clinton 27,046 51.0%
Sanders 25,957 49.0%
Clinton 54,128 55.3%
Obama 43,669 44.7%

Between 2008 and 2016, Clinton lost 4.3 percentage points and a hair over half of her primary supporters. Total Democratic turnout yesterday was only 54.2% of Democratic turnout in 2008.

The Democrats had similar circumstances in their Presidential primary. In 2008, the Associated Press announced that Obama had the delegates to secure the nomination early on primary day. This year, AP made that announcement for Clinton on primary eve. In both cases, voters could have seen their South Dakota vote as either meaningless or as nothing but a message sender.

Democrats did have thirteen legislative primaries around the state in 2008 compared with only four this year (and two of this year’s were meaningless, with withdrawn candidates). However, even in this year’s most hotly contested Democratic primary, the Nesiba/Kirschman Senate tilt in District 15, the number of voters who turned out was actually less than those who turned out for the 2008 primary (caution: today’s District 15 overlaps but differs from 2008’s).

The simplest conclusion: Clinton and Sanders generated far less voter enthusiasm this year than Obama and Clinton did in 2008.

Meanwhile, Republicans showed no such decline in primary zeal:

SD Primary Votes Percent
Trump 44,862 67.1%
Cruz 11,350 17.0%
Kasich 10,659 15.9%
McCain 42,788 70.2%
Paul 10,072 16.5%
Huckabee 4,328 7.1%
Romney 1,990 3.3%
Uncommitted 1,786 2.9%

The textbook racist Donald Trump polled 3.1 percentage points lower than John McCain did in 2008, but 2,074 South Dakota Republicans were willing to vote for Trump than the POW he insulted last summer. Yesterday’s GOP turnout was 9.7% higher than 2008’s GOP turnout.

Both Trump and McCain were foregone conclusions by the time of South Dakota’s primary. 2008 Republicans had the Dykstra/Kephart/Gonyo U.S. Senate primary to draw them to the polls, while 2016 Republicans had no statewide primary race. This year’s GOP primary include 22 Legislative races, compared with 18 in 2008.

I would love to think that Legislative races are the real drivers of primary turnout and that South Dakota voters are more excited about state politics than national politics. But Presidential primaries generally drive higher turnout. This year’s turnout was 21.9% statewide; it was 20.5% in 2014, when we had nothing but state races on the ballot.

Again, the unpleasant simple conclusion: even inviting Independents to participate in the Democratic primary (which wasn’t allowed in 2008) that offered the well-known Independent appeal of Bernie Sanders drew 21% fewer voters than the less contested Republican primary. In South Dakota’s primary, neither Clinton nor Sanders showed any sign of reënergizing the Democratic base, while Trump seemed not to cause any similar deflation of Republican voter turnout.

It looks like it’s up to Paula Hawks, Jay Williams, and us Legislative candidates to fire up the base and get out the vote.

p.s.: South Dakota’s Presidential primary offers one meager bright side: South Dakota Republicans gave Trump his lowest vote percentage in yesterday’s contests. Republicans in California, Montana, and New Mexico all gave Trump over 70%; New Jersey Republicans gave him 80.6%.


  1. jerry 2016-06-08 08:01

    I think the premature announcement about Clinton had a play in this Cory. Not just in this race, but in all races, the media declares that your vote does not count. We have seen this play out in national races all the time when results on the east coast seem to override everything else. The media does no justice in this anti democratic “service” they continue to spew. So having 50,000 voters vote in a primary that the party bosses said was moot, seems like the voters really do not care about what the party bosses say anymore. That gives me hope that the party bosses will blow away like the Russian thistles into some big ol pile that gets hauled away. Long past time for new blood in the anemic Democratic party in South Dakota! If an old Jewish socialist can win a complete area in South Dakota, West River no less, against such a known candidate, there is a future for others with the same message of change. 1200 votes more or less, is no mandate.

  2. Craig 2016-06-08 08:25

    Premature announcements might keep a few people home, but I doubt it has as large of an impact as we might assume.

    Think about it this way – Trump was actually the only GOP candidate still in the race, so anyone who supported him should have already known their vote was merely symbolic. Yet somehow, 44,862 people thought he was worthy of their vote, so they managed to show up at the polls anyway.

    I have to tell you – I’m pretty disappointed in my fellow South Dakotans for openly embracing a racist, misogynistic, xenophobe who has zero grasp of the issues concerning this country and has spent more time telling us how big his hands are, and how great his words are than he has bothered explaining why we would be better off with him in the White House.

    Although the results didn’t surprise me, it is always disappointing to have your fellow citizen’s biases put on public display.

  3. David Bergan 2016-06-08 09:15

    “both Democratic Presidential candidates together drew fewer votes than the odious Donald Trump”

    I think you’ve been teaching English too long. :) By my reckoning:

    27,046 + 25,957 > 44,862

  4. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-06-08 09:35

    Thanks, David! I looked at the totla line, not the Trump line. My faith in the electorate is restored; my faith in my reading skills is not. ;-) Correction coming!

  5. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-06-08 09:40

    Jerry, 2008 had an early announcement in favor of Obama as well. It wasn’t as early, happening early on primary day instead of the evening before the primary, but the same dynamic was there to discourage turnout. The 46% drop-off this year came from something other than the AP.

  6. kingleon 2016-06-08 10:07

    First, I’ll just leave this here, as my response to this post’s main thesis:

    That taken care of, anyone noticed the Bernie/Hillary disparity across SD counties?

    East River was won almost completely by Hillary, West River was won completely by Bernie. (And Lyman, in the middle was split 50/50!). Other things of note: Rapid City (Pennington) went hardest for Bernie and Trump, on the Dem/GOP respectively.

    Also, SD went the least % for Trump last night, even though Trump is the only GOP candidate who didn’t suspend his campaign. That said though, its similar to the 66% that Romney got and the 70% that McCain got, so maybe SD Republicans just like giving a protest vote against the apparent winner…

  7. Madman 2016-06-08 10:12

    I know personally the only thing on the ballot was the presidential choices in my area. I chose to exercise a no vote as I didn’t have the extra time to go make a vote for an election that is already decided. I know its not the right thing to do and I will vote in November.

  8. TCMack 2016-06-08 11:03

    As I looked at the results on the SOS site. There were only handful of Dem primaries. Other than the presidential race there was nothing to really vote for.

  9. Ben Cerwinske 2016-06-08 11:18

    Come on Democrats. I’m one of the independents who took up the party’s offer to participate. You gotta do better than this in November.

  10. David Newquist 2016-06-08 11:24

    A factor in South Dakota politics is the level of coverage by the press. The online version of the AAN does not carry a breakdown of the votes for Brown County, other than a posting that voter turnout was 21%. In the early morning hours it carried no news of the election results, but did cover the District 3 primary for the GOP candidates. As Brown County is undergoing a demographic shift, it is of special interest to political scientists and analysts. The New York Times provides a detailed report that the local media does not. Here is the Brown County breakdown:

    Trump: 1,407 64.7%
    Cruz 397 18.3%
    Katich 371 17.1%
    Total 2,175

    Clinton 1,369 54.6%
    Sanders 1,138 45.4%
    Total 2,507

  11. LS 2016-06-08 11:39

    Got a fundraising mailer from the Hawks campaign. I dislike Noem and want to help, but I can’t bring myself to donate anything because I honestly don’t think there is a chance for victory. The low turnout total from the primary is indicative of that. On the other hand, thanks to technology and social media it is easier than ever to identify and donate to candidates in other states whose chances of winning are greater. I can’t help wondering if my money would go farther and be of more help to out of state candidates and, by association, go further to achieving democratic congressional goals than it would if I donate to Hawks and Williams. I’d be interested in hearing what others might think. Thanks.

  12. Darin Larson 2016-06-08 12:02

    LS, if Hawks and Williams get campaign contributions that enable them to get their message out, Noem and Thune have to be responsive and spend some of their own money defending their seats. Your money is not wasted. Even if Hawks and Williams do not prevail they keep Noem and Thune from donating as much to out of state races.

  13. Roger Cornelius 2016-06-08 12:15

    You are the voter that South Dakota Democrats needs, you are the one that can make a difference whether or not we bench Noem and Thune in favor of Democrats that actually want to work for the citizens of South Dakota.
    I get a lot of fundraising from other states and pretty much ignore them.
    It is far more important that my donations stay in South Dakota and supporting candidates even outside my district (that means Cory).
    LS, it is you that can help light the fire that Democrats need.

  14. Robin Friday 2016-06-08 12:34

    That’s very useful, Prof. Newquist, thank you. I’m always curious about what really happened with the numbers on the local level. Vote, people!

  15. Robin Friday 2016-06-08 12:42

    I will be keeping my donations at home, meaning in SD. It’s so important. if we want to support our own legislature. We’re not going to turn it around anytime soon, I realize, but every vote and every dollar helps. They used to say back in the 70s that “if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem”. It’s time to not just roll over and accept that our legislature is one-party-dominated to an unacceptable measure, but DO something about it, do our part, whatever it may be.

  16. LS 2016-06-08 12:54

    I want to be clear that I am talking about national races only, just seats in the US Congress. It doesn’t seem likely that either one of our Dem candidates will win, especially when we are fighting low turnout as well. So wouldn’t make more sense to support candidates in other states that actually have a chance of winning? It seems like the importance of getting back the Senate and possibly the House would make this option worth further consideration.

  17. Douglas Wiken 2016-06-08 12:59

    Hawks has mediocre mailings. Wordy, empty, passive sentences.

  18. Robin Friday 2016-06-08 14:33

    It’s not that hard to go to Hawks’ website, determine what her policies and leanings are, and decide on the spot that Hawks is somebody I’d far rather have in Congress than the do-nothng Kristi Noem. It’s not about the money, it’s about the candidate. If we believe it’s all about the money and whether the candidate can win, but if we sit on our donations and don’t disperse them to candidates we believe in, then we know we won’t win.

  19. David Bergan 2016-06-08 15:09

    Hi LS, Robin,

    Here’s the problem with campaign donations. Politics is like war. Both sides spend money/resources, but the losing side utterly wastes it. They lost AND are poorer. Got nothing from the donation, because the system is like an all-pay auction: everyone pays their bids, but only the side who paid the most gets the prize. Everyone else may as well have flushed their money down the toilet.

    (I say it’s like an all-pay auction, because the bigger pile of money doesn’t always win, just mostly wins… otherwise Jeb Bush would be the Republican Presidential nominee.)

    If you backed the winner, she may do you favors. If you backed the loser, the winner may hold it against you!

    On the other hand, if you root for a candidate, but instead of donating money to the candidate, donate that same amount to the Red Cross, someone is guaranteed to benefit from your donation.

    I don’t like these game theory implications of politics. It seems like the rich have an inherent advantage. But unfortunately it’s the system we have and I can’t think of a better one.

    Kind regards,

  20. LS 2016-06-08 15:13

    Without a doubt, I know I would rather have Paula Hawks in Congress instead of Noem too. I felt the same way about Corinna Robinson, and Rick Weiland as well. But wanting it didn’t make it happen. I just wonder if I would be better off focusing on a goal that is a little more achievable. Respectfully Robin, the reason I know that Hawks and WIlliams can’t win, is because the DNC will spend no money here trying to help them because even the DNC knows they can’t win. So to me it appears that it might be all about money and whether or not a candidate can win, after all.

  21. M.K. 2016-06-08 18:18

    I’m a Democrat. I voted. I exercised my voting privilege and right. Will also follow-through in November.

  22. jerry 2016-06-08 19:45

    Where are those down ticket funding that Clinton said were going to go to Democrats? Clinton raised hell with Bernie about them. Hawks went full throttle for Clinton so she should be raking in the moolah.

  23. Roger Cornelius 2016-06-08 20:18

    Ah, never mind

  24. jerry 2016-06-08 20:43

    Warren has endorsed Clinton and soon Obama will. The fire alarm keeps going off as no matter what Trump says, he still is in the run with our nominee with a tie game. President Obama wants Trump defeated and seems willing to put forth the effort to secure his legacy. I am sure that the President will reach out to Bernie with some kind of offer to help secure some 10 million voters in this race. Bernie’s platform is still viable for the future of the Democratic party. Works for me.

  25. Roger Cornelius 2016-06-08 21:07

    Speaking of money, how are Sanders campaign donations going today, not well I suspect.
    He laid off a bunch of his staff yesterday and may not have enough money to make it to the convention.
    Meanwhile, Hillary has launched her general election fundraising drive.

  26. jerry 2016-06-08 21:26

    Why would answer a question with a question Roger? Last I looked, Bernie did not make the claim that he was moving money in the way Clinton was by saying it was for the down ticket and then pocketing the loot. Good work if you can get it, why does that not surprise me.

    Yes, Bernie has laid off staff as he has not gotten the paydays that Clinton received from Wall Street, but you knew that. His campaign has been run with an average of 27 bucks a donation. He has run pretty far on just the good will of supporters. When you bring 10 million new voters into the Democratic primaries, you have made quite a mark.

  27. bearcreekbat 2016-06-09 02:55

    “When you bring 10 million new voters into the Democratic primaries, you have made quite a mark.”

    Especially if they are willing to vote in the general even though Bernie didn’t get the nod. That would be the real “mark” of a mark.

  28. jerry 2016-06-09 08:06

    Laundering moolah seems to be the way to get things done these days. When you move money from one hand to the next, it is called corruption. Ask our own Joop and his best pal Rounds on the best ways to get around corruption with either getting the crap slapped out of your hand or being elected to the Senate. Crime pays for everyone but the proletariat. W

  29. Steve Sibson 2016-06-09 08:12

    “Especially if they are willing to vote in the general even though Bernie didn’t get the nod.”

    And especially the ones who believed Bernie when he pointed out Hillary is a Wall Street crony capitalist.

  30. jerry 2016-06-09 08:18

    According to the Rapid City Journal, many voters just left the choice blank. The mark of making 10 million new Democratic votes count will be to give them something to vote for. You certainly cannot expect them to just blindly vote for someone because they have a D and that is what they stand for. There has to be there there. We shall see how the meeting goes with President Obama and how far Clinton decides to go with social platforms for the people and if she is willing to start looking out for the climate along with kicking odious trade bills to the curb. Then the mark will be felt.

  31. Darin Larson 2016-06-09 08:33

    jerry, if you can’t see a difference between Clinton and Trump only God can help you.

    Clinton has worked on social platforms for the people since she was a young college student. She has been on top of the climate change issue and paid a political price for her stance. She has come around on the trade bills. She is in favor of keeping the minimum wage relevant.

    Contrast this with Trump, who, other than the trade bills, opposes each of these initiatives.

  32. jerry 2016-06-09 08:44

    There are signs on the highway you can argue with Darrin. Of course there is a difference between Clinton and Trump gender aside. Clinton has come around on maybe on trade bills, she has not been on top of climate as she is for fracking and she was for the Keystone XL. We can thank Bernie for her come to Jesus moment regarding many of those things. At least 10 million new young Democrats would support her if she goes even further to the Bernie side of town.

  33. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-06-09 16:21

    LS, thanks for your willingness to support Democrats. Even though you’re looking strictly at candidates for Congress, I’m going to include state legislative races in my analysis.

    I reach out to donors outside my legislative district. I tell them that if they have anyone running in their district, even if those candidates face tougher odds than I, they should help those candidates first. Give those home folks the tools they need to improve their odds, then come help me.

    If they have no Dems running in their district (District 2 Senate, District 14 Senate, District 31…) or if their races have already been decided (District 1, District 15 Senate, District 18 Senate!), then they should absolutely send money to me and other Democrats running for Legislature.

    LS, you are choosing between Hawks, who you think doesn’t have a good chance, and other races nationwide where your money might make a greater difference. I say spend it here first. Hawks’s odds are better than you may think. I would suggest that, compared to some markets you may be looking at, you money may make a bigger difference for Hawks. Your money can probably buy more media here than it can in big-city markets.

    Think of it this way: in a close race elsewhere, for a candidate who already has a big war chest, your $1,000 might buy 0.2% more door hangers than the candidate would have bought otherwise. For Hawks, who isn’t big budget, your $1,000 might buy her 2% more door hangers than planned.

    Or maybe this way: your money in a close race might mean the close candidate does a little more media in an already hard-fought market. Your money in the Hawks race might mean Hawks adds a direct mail or local newspaper or radio presence in a market where she previously couldn’t afford to do anything, meaning she could pick up some low-hanging votes that would otherwise have gone unharvested.

    I know I’m just offering abstract rationalization rather than hard counts of who’s got votes where. But I will assert that 1,000 South Dakota Democrats with $100 each can make more impact with their money in the Hawks campaign than they can in most given Democratic races elsewhere.

    Plus, remember that the dollars you give to Paula are dollars to which Kristi needs to respond, and every dollar Kristi has to spend here is a dollar she can’t spend helping Republicans in close races in other states. Giving to Paula helps candidates in other states; helping candidates in other states does not help candidates here at home.

    Finally, giving to Paula helps Paula make the case to other donors that she’s worth their money. “My home folks are backing me—you should, too!”

    But if you really want to talk impact in your daily life in South Dakota, I will contend that your best bet is to split your money between your Congressional candidate and your Legislative candidates. Bust up the Republican majority in Pierre, and you will see remarkable changes in how South Dakota runs.

    Paula welcomes your donations:,50,100,250,500,1000,2700

    So do I:

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