Once upon a time—13 months ago, to be specific—a Harper poll found that Republican Mike Rounds would win the Senate race 52% to 38% over Democrat Rick Weiland. Mike Rounds had all the advantages: big money, name recognition, and that fat, juicy R in front of his name in red red South Dakota.

Mike Rounds took those advantages for granted and lost 15 of those percentage points. The latest Harper poll finds Rounds at 37%, Weiland 33%. Harper called 630 likely South Dakota voters from October 9 through October 11, riding the wave of national press that broke in Weiland's favor and Rounds's dis- last week.

Compare the Harper numbers to the Survey USA numbers that fueled the furor last week. Survey USA polled 616 likely South Dakota voters from October 1 through October 5 and found Rounds at 35%, Independent Larry Pressler at a surprising 32%, and Weiland at 28%. Assume no flukiness (and David Montgomery doesn't), note margin of error (about 4% each way), and we see Rounds hanging around his well-attested rock-bottom, Weiland climbing, and Pressler diving.

I don't think anyone hit Pressler that hard in the few days between Survey USA and Harris. It seems just as likely that we saw the first surge of the trend Public Policy Polling and others have seen coming: get closer to election, and folks toying with a Pressler vote will retreat from third-party novelty for their trusted brands. With Rounds stinking up his brand while Weiland does his proud, Weiland gets a bump that only gets bigger as the horserace narrative supplants the foregone conclusion that Republicans thought excused them from running a competent campaign.

Stuart Rothenberg moved South Dakota from "Republican Favored" to "Lean Republican" today, citing Rounds's "poor campaign and weak fundraising, as well as the candidate’s underwhelming performance on the stump." Larry Sabato made a similar move Friday, based on Rounds's "weakness."

Look at the poll numbers 13 months ago. Look at the poll numbers today.

Tell me, Republicans, how's that buyer's remorse working out for you?

p.s.: Down at the bottom, Gordon Howie scores 5% in Harper. In the cross-tabs, Howie gets 5% of the conservative vote and 5% of the liberal vote. In other words, Howie doesn't mobilize his Tea Party base any better than the margin of error he gets from liberals who should all know better.


If Larry Pressler can get mojo back, why can't Susan Wismer?

Susan Wismer has touted her gubernatorial bid as South Dakotans' chance to elect their first female governor. She doubled the female fun by naming Susy Blake as her running mate.

Yet both of the big SurveyUSA polls have shown no advantage for Wismer among the ladies. The September poll showed 55% of men and 53% of women going for Dennis Daugaard; the October poll shows Daugaard winning 58% of men and 60% of women. Ladies, why aren't you flocking to Wismer?

We can ask the same of a big chunk of Democrats. From September to October, the number of Democrats voting for Daugaard has risen from 23% to 32%. A third of my fellow travelers are voting for the Republican incumbent, the leader of the corrupt one-part regime in Pierre and part owner of the EB-5 scandal.

Fellow Democrats, fill me in. What possible reason does a Democrat have to vote for Dennis Daugaard instead of a Democratic challenger who could upset the balance of power and challenge the Legislature to create a better budget?


David Montgomery makes up for giving Dick Wadhams too much room to run on the Darley ruling by reviewing the latest SurveyUSA poll numbers and saying Mike Rounds is on the floor... of Republican support in South Dakota:

Mike Rounds is as mainstream as Republicans get. He's well-known and well-funded and a constant presence on TV. What these poll numbers should tell you, if accurate, is that Rounds is very near the floor of his support. No matter how much negative advertising gets slung at him, he's not likely to fall any further. (That's not to say negative ads won't be effective — they can keep Rounds' numbers down, and preempt any comeback.) Which means that if either Pressler or Weiland is going to win, they're going to have to reach a plurality by taking votes from each other [David Montgomery, "That SurveyUSA Poll," that Sioux Falls paper, 2014.10.07].

Montgomery notes that Rounds's 35% is down where GOP losers Joel Dykstra, Jan Berkhout, Ron Schmidt, and Char Haar finished in their ill-fated races. Mike Rounds is almost as bad a candidate as Bruce Whalen.

Rick Weiland will have more trouble than Larry Pressler capitalizing on Montgomery's thesis that there are no more Rounds votes to flip. The hypothetical head-to-heads show a pure Rounds–Weiland tilt ties 47–47, while Pressler-Rounds goes 54–39. That result, if reliable, shows how hard it is to get a certain segment of South Dakotans to mark "D" on their ballots. (Rick! Remind them that Harry Reid hates you!)

Pressler, of course, is ecstatic:

We are humbled by the results of today’s poll, showing our message of taking the best ideas from both parties to end the poisonous deadlock between Republicans and Democrats in the US Senate is starting to resonate.... Harriet and I have been blessed by the outpouring of support of our grass roots campaign to stop the endless fighting of the two major parties.  No one party has a monopoly on all the answers.  South Dakotans agree with me that both parties are locked in a lobbyist-controlled spending and taxing cycle, trapped in a partisan fight while nothing gets resolved [Larry Pressler, press release, 2014.10.07].

But anyone who thinks this one set of numbers will somehow convince Weiland (or me, or any good Democrat) that he has a moral imperative to drop out of the race is mistaken. Four weeks to go, just seven points behind the failing frontrunner, Lawrence Lessig giving my campaign a million-dollar vote of confidence, and now my major battle is to knock off not Dick Wadhams but Larry Pressler? Yes, please, bring me that fight!


Mike Rounds isn't the only person asking to change his answer. South Dakota Republicans are starting to wish they could change their nominee (where have you gone, Larry Rhoden?).

Public Policy Polling finds support for Mike Rounds has dropped to 35%.

35%. 35%. After two years of campaigning, Mike Rounds, the once and supposedly future king, the Nine Million Dollar Man, is at 35%.

And PPP ran this survey (on behalf of Rick Weiland's Democratic campaign, 703 likely voters, margin of error ±3.7 ponits) September 29 and 30, before we learned Rounds told the Legislature a falsehood about being served on EB-5 litigation.

PPP finds Rick Weiland seven points back, at 28%.

Seven points back. Seven points back. Rick Weiland, whom Harry Reid thinks doesn't stand a chance, is just seven points back.

Now it's worth noting that Weiland hasn't moved within the margin of error in PPP's three scans of the electorate this year. Independent Larry Pressler is Rocket Man, jumping from 15% in May and 16% in August to a 24% that no Independent with no money should be getting right now.

Even Independent conservative insurgent Gordon Howie gets good news:

Rounds is losing supporting on the right to Howie. Howie’s doubled his share of the Republican vote over the last month from 6% to 12%, pushing his support to the point where it provides a real threat to Rounds. Rounds has a tepid 62/31 favorability even with GOP voters, reflecting his weak 55% showing in the June primary [Tom Jensen, "Rounds Support Falls to 35% in South Dakota Race," Public Policy Polling, 2014.10.02].

In no normal election should Gordon Howie be ticking upward as the election approaches. But Mike Rounds is botching his candidacy so badly that apparently anything can happen in South Dakota's Senate race.


Northern Plains News reports that Democrats Susan Wismer and Corinna Robinson have not moved their poll needles since July. Nielson Brothers Polling surveyed over 600 likely voters from September 21 to September 25 and found the races for Governor and House looking statistically identical to the results two months ago:

Nielson percentages July Sept
Daugaard 53 53
Wismer 29 28
Myers 7 10
undecided 12 9
Noem 54 55
Robinson 37 37
undecided 10 9

Evidently Wismer's takedown of Governor Daugaard at Dakotafest went unnoticed by the electorate. So has anything else she or Robinson has done during or since the August fair ramp-up of the campaign.

Independent gubernatorial candidate Mike Myers's climb to 10% could be noteworthy as his first post-primary double-digit polling. But the three-point climb from Nielsons' July poll is still within the margin of error, meaning we can read no momentum into the result.

Nielson Brothers Polling has been branded a Democratic-leaning polling firm. It is thus interesting (or disheartening, depending on your inclinations) to see that NBP consistently scores Wismer, Robinson, and their Senate field counterpart Rick Weiland lower than the Survey USA poll published earlier this month.

Meanwhile, in Iowa, the Jim Mowrer campaign is crowing about a transportation union poll that shows the Democrat just three points under his incumbent Republican wingnut opponent Rep. Steve King. Managing Mowrer's aspiring campaign is Ben Nesselhuf, who used to run the South Dakota Democratic Party.


Nielson Brothers Polling reinforces the growing belief that Mike Rounds is far from the bulletproof Senate candidate Republicans thought he would be. Their latest polling data finds that Rounds has dropped four points to 39%. Nielsons' finding joins Public Policy Polling (mid-August) and Survey USA (early September) in finding Rounds unable to break 40%. Even Rounds's own propaganda poll finds him at 41%.

Six out of ten South Dakotans want someone other than Mike Rounds to be Senator. The problem is, they are split on whom to pick. Rick Weiland still comes in second, but like Rounds, he has dropped four points from Nielsons' July poll, to 26%. Surging a monster ten points is Independent Larry Pressler, now at 24%. If two data points made a trend, Pressler could surge over 30% by Election Day... and Mike Rounds faces the embarrassing possibility of defeat at the hands not of a Democrat but a retired Independent with no money.

Nielson asks two important hypotheticals: What would happen if Pressler dropped out, and what would happen if Weiland dropped out. In a sock to the gut to Democrats, it appears Pressler would actually have the better chance of beating Rounds:

Nielson Brothers Polling hypotheticals, U.S. Senate race, September 2014

Graphics from Northern Plains News

Uff da: Pressler may be able to combine nostalgia and freedom of party brand into a threat that no one thought would be credible, let alone a direct threat to Mike Rounds's ascendancy.

By the way, Gordon Howie continues to be statistical noise, winning just 4% support. But in a race that could tighten, maybe it's time for Howie to invite Weiland and Pressler out for a conversation about how to achieve the one goal that unites them: beating Mike Rounds.


Just like the February version, the August Dakota Poll finds more young South Dakotan adults identifying themselves as conservative (42%) than liberal (23%). But theirs is a queer conservatism. Consider:

  • South Dakotans age 18 to 35 aren't interested in conserving the current two-party system: asked to rate how well "the two-party system is serving the needs of the American people" on a 1–10 scale, 53% give it a 4 or less; only 20% give it a 6 or better.
  • Young South Dakotans wouldn't conserve South Dakota's election system: 56% would like to adopt the Nebraska system—all legislative candidates from all parties go on the same ballot in June, and the top two vote-getters face off in November. Only 29% would oppose.
  • They don't read the Second Amendment as conservatively as the NRA and orange-clad candidates demand: 87% support "reasonable background checks on gun purchases" (that includes 82% of Republican respondents) and 53% say "Local governments should have the authority to ban guns from bars, parks, stores, and restaurants."
  • They aren't strict economic conservatives: as I reported Tuesday, they wouldn't just pass the $8.50 minimum wage on South Dakota's ballot; 56% of them would vote to raise the minimum wage to President Obama's favored $10.10.
  • They aren't strict Grover Norquist conservatives: 70% would raise our minimal teacher pay at least 20%, "even if it means slightly higher sales or property taxes. (A 20% increase would raise South Dakota's teacher pay from 51st in the nation to 41st. We'd still be 16% below the national average and $8,800 behind Minnesota.)
  • They aren't conservative with citizenship: 52% say they'd allow illegal immigrants to stay here and eventually apply for citizenship. Another 11% would let illegal immigrants stay but block citizenship. Only 29% would kick 'em out.
  • They aren't conservative about "family values": 55% say gay marriage should be legal, versus 29% who would keep South Dakota's ban. (But maybe that majority is family-value conservative, taking the position that government should not interfere in two willing adults' decision to make a commitment and raise a family.)
  • They are mixedly conservative on health insurance: almost three times as many respondents think they are worse off under the Affordable Care Act than think they are better off, though a strong 40% say the ACA makes no difference. But asked whether they prefer a mandate to buy private insurance or extending government-based health insurance like Medicare to everyone with income-based premiums, government wins 44% to 26%.

There may be conservatism afoot among the youngest generation of South Dakota voters, but it's not their parents' conservatism.


Larry Kurtz gets me reading this Wallet Hub ranking of the fairness of state tax systems. Wallet Hub asked 1,050 Americans to say what percentage (between 0 and 25) of income households in ten income brackets ought to pay in state and local taxes. Americans are progressive taxers: the ideal fair tax rates bubbling up from this survey rise from 2.5% for households making $5,000 a year to 16.36% for households making $2.5 million a year.

Wallet Hub then lined these survey figures up with actual state and local tax burdens calculated by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy for each state's five income quintiles. From these calculations, Wallet Hub offers this tax fairness map:



Montana comes out with the state and local tax system imposing burdens closest to the ideal rates found in Wallet Hub's survey. South Dakota, ranking 36th nationwide, has the least fair tax system in the region:

State Tax Fairness Rank Rank among Liberals Rank among Conservatives
Montana 1 1 1
Minnesota 7 6 11
North Dakota 15 16 10
Nebraska 23 24 26
Iowa 25 21 27
Wyoming 28 34 22
South Dakota 36 37 31

Wallet Hub breaks respondents by general ideology and finds conservatives and liberals give different ideal tax rates. Conservatives advocate higher tax rates than liberals for the lowest three income categories Wallet hub asked about and lower rates for the upper seven. But conservatives still favor consistently progressive tax rates. Conservatives and liberals rank Montana as the fairest state; conservatives and liberals alike place South Dakota in the bottom half for tax fairness.


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