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Gov. Noem at SDSU

South Dakota Remains Mostly Polarized on Evaluation of Major Political Figures

The South Dakota COVID-19 Impact Survey was conducted from April 12 to 25, 2021 by The South Dakota Polling Project, a research group housed in the School of American and Global Studies at South Dakota State University. A total of 3,057 registered voters in South Dakota completed our survey about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on their daily lives, alongside questions on political beliefs given the partisan polarization of the policy response to the pandemic. The margin of error of this survey was +/- 2 %, which is less than most state-wide polls.

Overall Support of Major Figures Consistent with State’s Partisan Leanings

“Feeling Thermometers” are commonly used by political scientists to measure support of political figures, since it is a very intuitive and sensitive measurement. A score of 100 means a respondent has the warmest of feelings towards an individual, a score of 0 the coldest feelings, with 50 being neutral. Results of our survey show that South Dakotans are relatively cool towards President Joe Biden. The president’s “feeling thermometer” is at 37. Given the fact that South Dakota is a solidly Republican state and that Biden got only 35.6% of the votes in last year’s election, this finding is not surprising. Former President Donald Trump’s thermometer was at 43, which is nearly identical to the value of 42 from October of last year. The thermometers of Sens. Rounds and Thune were 44 and 45, respectively, Gov. Noem scored 48, and Rep. Johnson 52. These results are similar to our findings in general electorate in our inaugural poll in October 2020.

bar graph showing thermometers ratings by all voters for Biden at 36, Rounds at 44, Thune at 45, Noem at 48, and Johnson at 52

Support of Governor and Trump Remain Strong Amongst Republicans, But the Congressional Delegation’s Popularity is Waning

Our findings show that South Dakota leaders enjoy fairly strong support from the Republicans in the state. Noem recorded the highest support at 77, followed by Johnson at 66 and Thune and Rounds both at 62. The former president remains popular among South Dakota Republicans with a score of 71. Predictably, the thermometer score of Biden was quite low at 14 among the state Republicans.

Bar chart showing Thermometer ratings of Trump at 75, Noem at 77, Johnson at 66, Thune and Rounds at 62, Biden at 14.

It is important to note that the feelings thermometers on Noem and Trump were virtually unchanged between our April 2021 and October 2020 polls amongst South Dakota Republicans (their differences in ratings in both polls were within the margin of error), whereas our all-Republican congressional delegation suffered some serious dips in their popularity. Johnson, Rounds and Thune dropped 9, 10, and 14 points respectively. This is a sharp break from the governor. As we noted in our post-election survey, most Republicans in the state questioned the fairness of the election. These sentiments ultimately came to a head in the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol, and have been sustained ever since in conservative media outlets. Through this all, the governor has remained steadfast in her support of the former president. Meanwhile, Johnson, Thune, and Rounds were walking a narrow path in their handling of the post-January 6 political environment: publicly breaking with the former president on the certification of Biden’s victory, yet voting against his impeachment. Since former president Trump remains the singularly most popular national figure in the Republican party, this public break has undoubtedly cost our congressional delegation some support within the party. However, given their overall levels of support, we doubt any risk to their electoral safety.

Bar chart showing drops in thermometer ratings between October 2020 and April 2021 of 1 point for Biden, 9 points for Johnson, 14 points for Thune, 10 points for Rounds, 2 points for Noem, and 3 points for Trump

South Dakota Democrats Have Mixed Feelings For State Officials

Predictably, Biden enjoys solid support among South Dakota Democrats with a score of 77, which is slightly higher than the support former Trump enjoys among Republicans in the state. The results also show that some Republicans are substantially more popular than others amongst Democrats. Johnson continues to enjoy the highest bipartisan support with a score of 33. Thune and Rounds are at 24 and 19, respectively, with the governor trailing behind at 10, and Trump at 6. The low levels of support for the governor are very likely due to her close association with the former President and the adoption of his rhetoric since leaving office in January.

Bar chart showing thermometer ratings amongst Democrats for Biden at 77, Johnson at 33, Thune at 24, Rounds at 19, Noem at 10, and Trump at 6.

Independents Have Strong Support for Johnson, and Are Middling on the Others

Amongst South Dakota’s voters, approximately 25% claim to be independent (46% and 29% of voters identify Republican and Democrat, respectively). Most of these independents “lean” towards one of the two major parties - 48% of them towards the Republicans and 28% towards the Democrats. Given Republican dominance in the state and the Republican’s “closed” primary system, this is not a surprising balance. Amongst independents, Johnson is a clear favorite. His thermometer rating is a strong 51 “degrees.” Noem, Thune and Rounds are all within a point of each other straddling 42, while Trump scores 36 and  Biden scores 32.

bar chart showing thermometer ratings by independent for Johnson at 52; Noem, Thune and Rounds at 42; Trump at 36, and Biden at 32.

Next week, we will conclude our public releases of data with a discussion of religiosity in South Dakota, and an examination of trust and how that shapes attitudes on COVID-19 mitigation and vaccination.