Skip to main content

Fall 2023 Poll: South Dakotans’ attitudes on abortion and marijuana

By David Wiltse, Ph.D., and Filip Viskupič, Ph.D.
The Fall 2023 Poll, conducted from Nov. 18 to Dec. 4, 2023, is a survey of the South Dakota electorate conducted 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. In this poll, 782 registered voters answered questions about political figures and policy questions of concern to South Dakota residents. As with all polls of the electorate conducted by the Polling Project, respondents were randomly sampled from the South Dakota Voter File of all registered voters in the state and weighted the data on known population parameters to closely match the characteristics of the state’s population. The margin of error of this survey was +/- 3.5%, similar to most statewide polls. 

Abortion access 

Since the Dobbs v. Jackson decision of 2022, abortion has been thrust upon political agenda in one way or another in nearly every state. Many states, including South Dakota, had so-called trigger laws that prohibited most abortions upon any change to the Roe v. Wade decision. In many of these states, pressure has mounted to use popular initiative to either soften or overturn those restrictions. South Dakota is no exception. The groundwork is being laid via petition to place the issue on the 2024 ballot. To get a sense of where the electorate stands on the issue of abortion, several scenarios were posed to respondents in our most recent poll. Respondents were asked if they supported legal access to abortion in: 1) the first trimester (essentially the conditions under Roe); 2) in cases of rape or incest; and 3) in instances to protect the health of the mother. These nuances are important to consider since the topic is more complex to the typical voter than a binary “pro-life” or “pro-choice” label can reflect. 

The results reflected this nuance. About 48% of the electorate supported the Roe status quo, with 40% opposing it. Put differently, there is not a majority in either the pro-life or pro-choice direction on abortion policy. Consensus emerged in specific circumstances where abortion should be an option. About 77% of the electorate opposed the current lack of exception for victims of rape and/or incest; and 85% supported an exception for the health of the mother, which is legal under the current law. 

A stacked bar chart shows that South Dakota voters are evenly divided on the question of abortion in the first trimester, but largely supportive of exceptions being made for cases of rape and/or incest and protection of the health of the mother.


When political party is considered, Democrats are uniformly pro-choice. However, there is a fair amount of discord amongst Republican voters. The dissonance is particularly pronounced on the exception in circumstances of rape and/or incest. In the 2023 legislative session, no consensus emerged amongst Republican legislators to make such an exception. With 66% of registered Republican voter supporting this exception, these results show that this is incongruent with the party in the electorate. While this almost certainly will not affect future legislative election outcomes, it suggests that a probable initiated measure on the question of abortion will have a decent chance of passing — similar to what happened in the state of Ohio

A stacked bar chart shows that a majority of South Dakota Republicans favor restricting abortion in the first trimester, but larger majorities supporting exceptions for victims of rape and/or incest and the health of the mother.


Recreational marijuana 

Another likely initiated measure on the 2024 ballot is a policy aimed at legalizing recreational marijuana — a seemingly perpetual conflict in the state. After a legalization scheme narrowly passed in 2020 (subsequently overturned by the courts) and another one narrowly failed in 2022, reformers are petitioning to get it back on the ballot in this year’s presidential election. Similar to results last year, our polling shows that public opinion is very closely divided, and structured largely on partisan terms. About 45% of respondents voiced support for the passage of such a law, while 42% were opposed. 

A pie chart shows that South Dakota voters are very evenly divided on the legalization of recreational marijuana.


Democrats are largely in favor of such an effort, with 68% supporting legalization. However, the parties are not symmetrical in their preferences here, suggesting the possibility of yet another close vote. A full 62% of Republicans are opposed to legalization, though 26% dissent from their fellow partisans, opening a narrow route for a similar measure to pass if it should land on the ballot in November. 

Two pie charts shows the opinions of Democrats versus Republicans on recreational marijuana. Democrats are overwhelmingly supportive, whilst Republicans are rather opposed.