In classical political parlance, liberals favor change, while conservatives prefer to stick with the status quo.
Let's apply that oversimplification to how South Dakota voted this week on ballot issues. Given four amendments, two referenda, and one initiated measure, we voted for two amendments, one fiddling with the formula for disbursements from the state cement plant trust fund, the other a bit of feel-good campaign-fodder requiring us to balance our state budget... just as we have without official exception 133 years straight. We rejected everything else, including significant policy changes in education, sales tax, and corporate welfare. That's pretty clearly a cautious conservative voting pattern.
Now let's break that down by county. On the seven ballot issues, Yes meant change, No meant status quo. If your county voted Yes less than the state average, your county is more conservative than the rest of South Dakota (which means you and your neighbors are somewhere to the right of Grover Norquist).
So here's the list of the most conservative counties in South Dakota, as measured by their propensity to vote No on the 2012 ballot measures:
|County||average percentage points below State "Yes"|
Bon Homme and Douglas are the only two counties out of that batch with populations over 3000 (and Douglas beats that number by 2). With the arguable exception of Bon Homme, every one of these counties has seen steady population decline over the last 30 years.
By the same metric, here are the most liberal counties in South Dakota:
|County||average percentage points above State "Yes"|
Only two of these counties, Todd and Buffalo, have populations under 10,000. All but Clay and Buffalo have increased population over the last thirty years.
Click on your county in this map to see how you and your neighbors stack up on the ballot-measure conservatism metric. (Blue means higher-than-average Yes votes, which we read here as a sign of liberal openness to change; red means lower-than-average Yes votes, which we read here as traditional conservative resistance to change.)
Take this amateur political geography for whatever you think it's worth. But the numbers on our ballot measures support what our daily experience suggests: it's hard to convince South Dakotans to change. We find openness to change, as embodied in willingness to vote yes on this year's ballot measures, among the folks who've moved to the big towns, as well as among our increasingly populous Lakota neighbors.