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FiveThirtyEight

Politics

Today we continue our Road to 270 series with the Mount Rushmore State, South Dakota.

BADLANDS AND PRAIRIE, South Dakota had the nation’s lowest unemployment several months ago, and the home of Wall Drug will be another state John McCain will collect in an effort to get to 270. While it lingers around the median in several categories (education, manufacturing job share and Starbucks:Walmart ratio), South Dakota has a higher percentage of white evangelicals, Catholics and Mormons. What do you get when a Catholic, an evangelical and a Mormon walk into a bar? A bad joke, probably, and you also get South Dakota.

Key Demographics

Note: Factors colored in red can generally be thought to help McCain. Factors in blue can generally be thought to help Obama. Factors in purple have ambiguous effects. Except where otherwise apparent, the numbers next to each variable represent the proportion out of each 100 residents in each state who fall into that category. Fundraising numbers reflect dollars raised in the 2008 campaign cycle per eligible voter in each state. Figures for seniors and youth voters are proportions of all residents aged 18+, rather than all residents of any age. The figure for education reflects the average number of years of completed schooling for all adults aged 25+. The figure for same-sex households reflects the number of same-sex partner households as a proportion of all households in the state. The liberal-conservative index is scaled from 0 (conservative) to 100 (liberal), based on a Likert score of voter self-identification in 2004 exit polls. The turnout rates reflect eligible voters only. Unemployment rates are current as of June 2008.

What McCain Has Going For Him

South Dakota features a few notable sociological factors in John McCain’s favor: more than half of South Dakotans own guns, and only two states have a lower percentage of same-sex households. It’s also a higher than normal military veteran state. McCain has nearly equal fundraising figures per capita as Obama here, always a good sign for the Republican this cycle. South Dakota is also very male, very non-black, very non-Hispanic, and has a higher percentage of elderly than most states, which in this election would seem to favor McCain, even as he tanks among older voters worried about things like retirement and Social Security in this economic crisis. Last but not least, Republicans still enjoy a large structural partisan ID advantage in South Dakota, one that helped George Bush win by over 20 points and one that had a 15-point gap in partisan ID-hood in 2004.

What Obama Has Going For Him

A decent population of younger voters, as well as a large Native population with whom Obama does extremely well. Obama was expected to do much better in the primary here, however, and fell short of expectations despite widespread support among the state’s superdelegates. Obama could wind up getting this state down into single digits, but this is also a ticket-splitting state, and many will opt to vote for McCain, Johnson and Herseth-Sandlin.

What To Watch For

Not much drama in South Dakota. Safe seats abound, including freshman defender Tim Johnson in the US Senate. After Johnson’s 2006 stroke, many Republicans openly speculated that his seat was up for the taking. Johnson’s seat is safe, as is Stephanie Herseth-Sandlin’s House seat — South Dakota’s lone Congresswoman. All we can really tell you about what to watch in South Dakota — not even the state legislative races hold much drama in terms of control (both should remain in Republican control), is that Deadwood is still the best TV series of all time, tied for #1 with The Wire. So watch it.

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