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South Dakotans’ Opinions on the Access to Abortion

The 2022 South Dakota Election Study was conducted between Sept. 28 and Oct. 10, 2022 by The South Dakota Polling Project, a non-partisan research group housed in the School of American and Global Studies at South Dakota State University. This poll is similar to election surveys conducted in May 2022 and Oct. 2020. In this survey, 565 registered South Dakota voters answered questions about the upcoming November election. The margin of error of this survey was +/- 4 percent, on par with other state-wide polls.

In this press release, we explore South Dakotans’ attitudes toward the issue of abortion. The Dobbs v. Jackson decision in June overruled the longstanding Roe v. Wade decision and gave states broad authority to regulate abortion.

Following the Dobbs v. Jackson decision, a “trigger law” law went into effect in South Dakota, which restricted access to abortion. At the moment, abortion is legal in South Dakota only when the health of the mother is in jeopardy.

While abortion has been a contentious political issue in the United States for decades, the recent Supreme Court ruling put the issue at the center of the political conversation ahead of the midterm elections. Across the country, Democratic candidates have increased spending on campaign advertisements related to abortion. In South Dakota, Gov. Kristi Noem and Jamie Smith clashed over abortion access during a candidate debate on September 30.

As a part of the poll, we asked South Dakotans about their attitudes toward abortion. According to one nationwide survey, sixty percent of Americans think that Congress should pass a law making abortion legal nationwide. Our survey asked participants to indicate their support for several distinct policy options regarding abortion, on a 5-point scale ranging from “strongly oppose” to “strongly support.”

South Dakotans Split on Access to Abortion

The results of our poll show that South Dakotans are sharply divided on the issue of abortion. Approximately 46% of participants support the right to abortion in the first trimester, which was the status quo under the Roe v. Wade decision, while 43% are opposed. This is significantly different from the national level of support for abortion access.

The results also show that over 74% of South Dakotans support access to abortion in instances of rape or incest, including 55% who strongly support it. Almost 20% are opposed. It appears that a large majority of South Dakotans support the right to abortion in case of rape or incest, even though it is currently illegal under state law. Note, some numbers do not add up to 100 due to rounding.

bar chart showing that a 46% of registered voters support abortion rights in the first trimester, with 43% opposed; 64% support 20% opposed in cases of rape and incest; 84% support 8% oppose in cases of mother’s health; and 18% support and 63% oppose abortion being illegal in all cases.

Large Partisan Differences

The issue of abortion has emerged as one of the main cleavages between the two major parties, and it is unsurprising that we observe significant differences between Republicans and Democrats in South Dakota.

Broadly speaking Republicans have a very nuanced set of preferences on abortion policy, as one would expect on such a deeply complex and emotional issue. A sizable majority of Republicans, 64%, opposed the status quo under Roe, where abortion was legally protected with few restrictions during the first trimester of pregnancy, with 22% supporting that degree of legal access.

When asked about exceptions in circumstances of rape or incest, 65% of Republican respondents indicate support for those provisions, while 27% are opposed. There is very broad support, 75%, for exceptions in cases where the mother’s health or life is in jeopardy (the current law), with 13% opposed.

Finally, Republicans are generally unsupportive of abortion being “always illegal.” Our numbers certainly understate the strength of this belief, as respondents often have exceptions in mind even when absolutist language is included in the question.

bar chart showing that a 22% of Republican registered voters support abortion rights in the first trimester, with 64% opposed; 65% support 27% opposed in cases of rape and incest; 75% support 13% oppose in cases of mother’s health; and 38% support and 48% oppose abortion being illegal in all cases.

Overall, Democrats are far more monolithic in their support of abortion rights. Though there are some pro-life Democrats amongst our respondents, they are a far smaller portion of the party than are pro-choice Republicans. This mirrors the national trend over the past several decades. Approximately 82% of South Dakota Democrats support the pre-Dobbs status quo of unregulated access to abortion in the first trimester, with only 9% opposed.

When it comes to legalized abortion in cases of rape or incest, and instances of threat to the health of the mother, Democrats resoundingly supported those exceptions with 90% and 92% majorities, respectively. When asked if abortion should be “always illegal,” 88% of our Democratic respondents were opposed.

bar chart showing that a 83% of Democratic registered voters support abortion rights in the first trimester, with 9% opposed; 96% support 3% opposed in cases of rape and incest; 96% support 1% oppose in cases of mother’s health; and 6% support and 88% oppose abortion being illegal in all cases.

Taken together, the results indicate that Democrats in South Dakota seem to be solidly pro-choice. And while Republicans are generally opposed to abortion, a large majority supports access to abortion in case of rape or incest.

The Gender Gap is Not Very Wide

Our results also show that about 51% of women agree that abortion should be legal in the first trimester, while 42% are opposed. For men, these numbers were 45% and 42%, respectively. This difference is largely accounted for by more men being neutral on the matter. There is no meaningful gender gap when it comes to the right to abortion in case of rape or incest, or when the life of the mother is in danger. Overall, the results show that the attitudes of men and women in South Dakota toward abortion are not too far apart.

In conclusion, abortion has long been a hot-button issue in American politics. The recent Dobbs v. Jackson ruling has thrust the issue to the center of the national spotlight. As we noted above, abortion has somewhat unexpectedly entered the gubernatorial election campaign in South Dakota. Whether this will prove to be a determinative issue remains to be seen.

Our press releases will continue all week. Thursday, we present the results of the measures to legalize recreational marijuana and expand Medicaid. On Friday, we will look at long-term partisan trends in the state and the popularity of several politicians at the state and national levels.

Contributors: David Wiltse Ph.D. and Filip Viskupič Ph.D.