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South Dakota: A Little More Geezerly, a Lot More Babies!

Governing breaks down the U.S. population by “generation” and state. Here are the percentages in South Dakota and our neighboring states, compared to the national percentages, for “post-millennials”, “millennials”, “Generation X”, “Baby Boomers”, and the “Silent” and “Greatest” generations, based on July 2016 Census estimates:

state ≤ 15 16–35 36–51 52–70 ≥ 71
South Dakota 22.14% 26.44% 17.92% 23.58% 9.92%
North Dakota 21.18% 30.11% 17.60% 21.81% 9.29%
Minnesota 20.75% 26.73% 19.77% 23.48% 9.27%
Iowa 20.68% 26.77% 18.84% 23.39% 10.32%
Nebraska 22.23% 27.24% 18.83% 22.33% 9.38%
Wyoming 21.32% 27.04% 18.69% 24.18% 8.76%
Montana 19.49% 25.77% 18.20% 25.94% 10.60%
US Total 20.24% 27.13% 20.31% 23.02% 9.30%

South Dakota has more of the two older generations than the nation as a whole, but not by much. If we had a room of 1,000 age-representative South Dakotans, we’d see six more boomers and six more really-grayhairs than we would in a crowd of 1,000 age-representative Americans. My age group, 36 to 51, has the largest discrepancy: in our big meeting rooms, there’d be 24 fewer prime-PTA-age South Dakotans than in the all-Americans’ room. We’d see seven fewer young adult South Dakotans but 19 more kids.

Fewer parent-age South Dakotans, but more kids. Interesting—South Dakota has the second-highest fertility rate in America, behind only to our Mormon cousins in Utah.

Pew Research, 2017.05.12.
Pew Research, 2017.05.12.

I’d like to start of the week with some Democratic optimism based on these numbers. Conventional wisdom and data tell us that older voters skew right while younger voters skew left. Given that the two younger voting generations (and by next year, those 16-year-olds counted last year will be voting age) outnumber the two older voting generations in South Dakota—57% of South Dakota’s 16+ population versus 43%—if age groups voted in proportion to their size, Democrats would have stronger chances of winning.

However, while younger voters ticked up last year compared to 2012, their turnout was still rotten compared to their elders. A bit more than half of the youngest chunk of voters sat out last year’s election (and this is what you get!), while the sit-out rate for the oldest voters was not quite 30%. Applied to South Dakota’s age groups, those turnout rates translate into six more percentage points of voting power for the two older, likely more conservative generations.

Even so (and we’re hip-deep in guessing numbers now!), at those reported turnout rates, younger voters should still have edged older voters 51% to 49% in South Dakota, yet we still went for Trump over Clinton 62% to 32%. Driving more millennial turnout should help Democratic fortunes in South Dakota, but we’ll still have lots of persuading to do as well.


  1. Porter Lansing 2017-06-26 08:29

    Baby Boomers believed it was our valiant sacrifice to have only one or two kids and many of us became DINKS (double income, no kids) in order to mitigate the overpopulation, deforestation and global warming of the planet. Our kids, kindly known as the “ME” generation, saw no such sacrifice as necessary.
    I’m firmly convinced (being in the restaurant business allowed me to interact with more young people than most boomers) that the millennials believe solidly in liberal principles, compassion and frugality but see little benefit in becoming politically engaged, yet.

  2. Nick Nemec 2017-06-26 08:43

    Throw another dynamic into the mix Cory, race. South Dakota has a large Native population, that group skews young and has a higher birth rate than their fellow non-Native citizens. Additionally when they vote Natives vote overwhelmingly Democratic, turnout is always an issue and a challenge.

  3. Roger Elgersma 2017-06-26 12:19

    GenXers and Millenials do not trust the system and that is why they do not vote. This time both parties had outsiders doing well and those who do not trust the system saw an opportunity to throw the bad system out so they voted in larger numbers.

  4. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2017-06-26 14:51

    Porter, I hope two years of Trumpism changes those millennials’ sense of political urgency.

    Nick, good point: our Native population has a lot to do with our large youth population. Hmm… is there a general correlation between leaning left and not turning out to vote?

    Roger E, did our current elders mistrust the system when they were young?

  5. jerry 2017-06-26 20:28

    Bad news for the geezerly, Daugaard, Jackley, NOem, Thune and the other guy are out to give us a dirt nap. Indeed. Anyone hear from these crooks how they are gonna do Medicaid in South Dakota with the plan Thune and Rounds put into play? Daugaard blathered something about it being good for South Dakota sounding like there would be bucketfuls of money to cover those expenses. Seems like he was lying. How are we gonna pay for the shortcomings? Even though they toss us in the street, they still have to bury us, don’t they? Doesn’t seem right to just leave us rot for coyote feed.

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