Alas, South Dakota's youngest voting generation knows who can butter its political bread. Amid reports that the national youth vote is leaning strongly liberal/progressive/Democrat, Sam Hurst publishes a new Dakota Poll that finds our young voters offering Jensenesque regressivism safe harbor in South Dakota for at least another generation.

The February phone survey of 400 South Dakotans ages 18 to 35 finds the following political self-identifications:

43% describe themselves as “very conservative (13%), somewhat conservative (20%), or leaning conservative (10%)”; nearly twice as many as the 24% who describe themselves as “very liberal (6%), somewhat liberal (11%), or leaning liberal (7%).” 23% of South Dakotans describe themselves as moderates.

In terms of political partisanship, 33% describe themselves as Republicans. 21% describe themselves as “supporters of the Tea Party”. 22% describe themselves as Democrats. 20% describe themselves as Independents [Sam Hurst, "March 2014 South Dakota Youth Poll," Dakota Poll, 2014.03.19].

These young conservatives aren't going anywhere, either. 48% say they've lived here all there lives; 83% said they went to high school here. 54% say it is extremely likely they will be living in South Dakota five years from now; only 6% say it is extremely unlikely that they will stay... which one would expect of conservatives who don't like change. This result does not mean that young people are not leaving the state; it just means that the more mobile young South Dakotans had already emigrated before Dakota Poll called.

The young survey respondents offer a reasonably conventional perception of what makes their generation choose to leave or stay:

Top reasons young people leave Top reasons young people stay
Work/Job Opportunties 48% Raise a Family/Values 26%
Warmer/Better Weather 22% Work/Job Opportunities 21%
Better Pay 20% Low Population/Small Communities 20%
Better Schools 15% Family/Friends 19%
Entertainment/Culture Leisure/Shopping 15% Low Crime/Safety 17%

Note that over twice as many respondents say job opportunities motivate people to leave South Dakota than motivate people to stay. In an interesting contrast, the leave reasons seem much more rationally capitalist than the stay reasons. Does that mean this young conservative generation will be much more family-values conservatives than free-market conservatives?

On social issues, these conservative-leaning millennials aren't all predictably conservative. The 20% who want a complete ban on abortion only slightly outnumber the 18% who want abortion legal in all circumstances. 26% want abortion legal with some restrictions. That's 44% who could show up at the polls and mostly defend women's reproductive rights. We can then fight off the anti-abortion majority by splitting them on exceptions: 25% want to allow abortion only in cases of rape, incest, or risk to the life of the mother; 9% would remove exceptions for rape and incest.

Get away from the political labels, and other issues may offer Democrats more chances to find common ground with this seemingly conservative generation. 72% say they are willing to make significant sacrifice to raise teacher pay in South Dakota. 56% say raising teacher pay would improve the quality of our schools... which suggests that the other 16% either enjoy throwing money away or believe that we have a moral obligation to pay teachers what they deserve for the good work they are already doing.

58% of respondents are making less than $35,000 a year. The poll didn't ask about the minimum wage, but combine those lower incomes with the recognition above that job opportunities may be better outside South Dakota, and these young voters may be more willing to support increasing wages and/or decreasing the tax burden that lower income folks face under our regressive sales tax.

Then again, this group isn't terribly tuned in to workers rights. 51% say they would make little or no sacrifice to support workers rights like organizing unions. The only social issue polled getting a stronger negative reaction was reducing carbon emissions to combat climate change (52% not feeling sacrificial).

In another bad sign, this 85% white generation has trouble seeing their kinship with the other. 67% say they would make significant personal sacrifice to help fight poverty in South Dakota. Only 49% say they would make similar sacrifice to fight poverty on Indian reservations.

The Dakota Poll results show what every Democratic door-knocker and campus organizer in South Dakota already knows: we can't count on the rising youth tide to float our liberal South Dakota boats. We lose a big chunk of future Democratic activists to the bright lights of big cities and other less conservative places where the fight for the Left isn't as hard a fight. Those who stay are naturally more conservative, meaning we liberals have to work extra hard to cut through their prejudices, find common ground on issues like fair teacher pay, and build on that common ground to expand their generosity to include more of their fellow South Dakotans.