Public Policy Polling does us the favor of paying attention to our Senate race again.

Well, actually, they do Rick Weiland the favor: the Democrat's campaign team asked PPP to revisit South Dakota's U.S. Senate race, and PPP obliged.

Surveying 726 likely voters on August 12–13 (and slightly over-sampling Republicans and undersampling Democrats), PPP finds Republican Mike Rounds still leading Weiland, but not by much. Rounds pulls 39% versus Weiland's 31%.

Local Nielson Brothers Polling found Rounds leading Weiland 43–30 in late July. PPP's April 30–May 1 poll found very similar numbers: 38% for Rounds, 28% for Weiland. The margin of error here is ±3.6%, so the PPP numbers could suggest that no one has really changed minds all summer (Oh, woe! All those billboards, parades, and quality music videos, for naught!)

PPP does reinforce the thesis that Pressler, who polls at 16%, is drinking more of Weiland's milkshake than Rounds's. However, PPP puts the straw in Pressler's glass and says Weiland may take a big slurp:

If Pressler’s support declines in the final stretch of the race, as tends to happen with independent candidates, Weiland stands to be the beneficiary. His favorability with Pressler supporters is a 40/20 spread, compared to 18/74 for Rounds [Tom Jensen, "Rounds Still Under 40% in South Dakota Senate Race, Weiland More Popular," Public Policy Polling, 2014.08.15].

It's not just Pressler voters who don't like Rounds. The former governor has the worst favorability numbers of the bunch: 44% of the sample say they like Mike, while 48% do not. Weiland is proving a likable guy, with a 42–27 spread. He still struggles with name recognition compared to Rounds, but PPP finds that among voters who do know Weiland, Weiland leads Rounds 42% to 33%. Keep knocking on doors, Rick!

Screen Shot 2014-08-16 at 6.47.44Related Rabble-Rousing: And keep singing! Let's see if Rickstock can help boost that name recognition. The Madville Times statewide tour goes to Piedmont today for the big musical fundraiser hosted by Rick's brother, Dr. Kevin Weiland, at the good doctor's hacienda at 5045 Lofty Pines Road. Dr. Kevin reports that the big wheeled stage is up! $9 gets you in the gate to hear nine hours of good outdoor music, from 1 p.m. to 10 p.m. And Madville Times readers, don't forget to sport your yellow flowers so we can recognize each other and show some flower power for Rick!

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Nielson Brothers Polling unearths another anomaly in the thinking of South Dakota voters. Their July 23–28 survey of voters found that Governor Dennis Daugaard enjoys more support than Congresswoman Kristi Noem among almost every political group:

Daugaard Noem
Overall Job Approval % 64.1 58.0
...among GOP 82.0 80.4
...among Dems 41.0 29.2
...among Indies 62.4 50.5
...among liberals 24.1 5.8
...among conservatives 77.4 78.0
...among “Tea Party” 87.8 96.5

Among the political affiliations and self-identifications checked by Nielson, the only folks who are more likely (outside the margin of error) to get a bigger charge out of Kristi Noem's performance than Dennis Daugaard's are Tea Party people.

Help me understand this difference. If I were a Tea Partier, in what way could I say that Rep.  Noem is doing her job in Washington in better alignment with my desires than Governor Daugaard is doing his job in Pierre? Does Noem's support for the Farm Bill, 16 months late as it was, epitomize the Tea Party vision for government better than, say, Daugaard's support for criminal justice reform? Does Noem's government shutdown demonstrate greater fealty to Tea Party principles than Daugaard's "new norm" of permanently hamstringing public education funding?

Is the difference something they don't do? Does Noem's failed effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act make her a bigger Tea Party hero than Daugaard's failed effort to repeal tenure and impose merit pay on public school teachers?

Noem and Daugaard have both caught heck for not brewing strong enough Tea. In 2012, the Club for Growth gave Noem a nearly failing score for Tea Party economic policy. Daugaard is widely and correctly viewed as one of the more moderate members of the South Dakota Republican Party (which in South Dakota is like saying John Sullivan is one of the lighter members of the Minnesota Vikings' offensive line). At no point in the last ffour years has either Noem or Daugaard really foamed at the mouth over the prospect of watering the tree of liberty with the blood of tyrants and RINOs. Tea isn't their cup of tea.

I'm left wondering if that anomalous Tea Party bent for Kristi simply boils down to image. Noem on a horse is a lady Reagan. Daugaard looks kinda studly in his checked shirts, but we all know he's not a cowboy; he's a lawyer-banker type. Policy equivalence doesn't matter, because Tea Partiers don't vote with their cerebra. They vote with their limbic systems. On an emotional level, Noem better affirms who we want to be and who we want our ladies to be.

And maybe, just maybe, supporting Noem provides the most regressively conservative among us another form of emotional comfort that Daugaard cannot: What do those dirty liberals mean, calling me a missoggy— miso soup— Mississauga— sexist, just because I want to ban abortion, block equal pay laws, and restore 1950s-style gender oppression? I like Kristi Noem! See? I can't be sexist!

If I'm missing something more substantive that would explain Noem's higher approval than Daugaard's among Tea Party voters, let me know. But I just can't see the job performance markers that would earn Noem any different score from Daugaard from the most radical conservative voters.

p.s., from the Thinking Out Loud Department: The difference between Daugaard's approval rating and Noem's is 6.1 percentage points. The difference between Daugaard's lead over Susan Wismer and Noem's lead over Corinna Robinson is 6.3 percentage points.

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What might be the closest race in South Dakota's 2014 election? If Nielson Brothers' polling numbers are accurate, it could be the battle for seats in the South Dakota Senate. In its July 23–28 survey, Nielson asked voters whether they would pick the Republican or the Democrat in their district for State Senate. The results of that generic question:

  • Republican: 41.9%
  • Democrat: 36.7%
  • undecided: 21.4%

That 5.2-point gap is barely larger than the 4.3-point margin of error. It's far smaller than the 13-, 18-, and 24-point gaps that Nielson finds Democrats Rick Weiland, Corinna Robinson, and Susan Wismer must surmount in their statewide races. And that gap is mde tighter by one very telling result: while Republicans and Democrats each line up for their own party's State Senate candidate at rates over 70% (Republican defections stand at 13%; Democratic defections are just 5%, with a much larger percentage who need to read this blog remaining undecided), Independents are breaking Democrat 3 to 2 (actual percentages: 24% R, 36% D, 40% still thinking).

Those numbers indicate that out of the 100,000 strong Indy voting bloc, Dems are getting more than an 11,000-vote advantage. If the remaining Indy unsures broke the same way, Dems would raise that edge to 18,000. If the partisan undecideds broke according to their partisan fellows' according percentages as well, the total vote count from the entire registered voting pool would be 255,000 votes for Republican State Senate candidates and 258,000 votes for Democratic State Senate candidates.

In other words, if all things were equal, South Dakota Democrats could have an advantage in State Senate races of less than one percentage point... and we could have recounts almost everywhere.

Of course, things are not equal. Republicans have drawn legislative district lines to herd Dem leaners into a few safe seats. More importantly, Nielson asked the generic question of Republican versus Democrat, not the specific question of Lederman versus Tornberg or Jensen versus Page. When voters put specific names and mostly Republican incumbent faces to that question, and when the SDGOP-Wadhams character-assassination machine gets rolling, those percentages will shift back toward the GOP's favor. And most egregiously, we Democrats have left 13 out of 35 seats unchallenged, so that's over a third of districts where we don't even get to test the Indy lean. (Republicans have left four Senate seats unchallenged.)

A number of factors put Democrats at a disadvantage in most South Dakota races. But the Nielson data on generic partisan preferences in State Senate races indicate that Indies like us and that with their help, we can make the battle for a Senate majority a fair fight. Let's take those numbers as cause for optimism, and let's fight hard for those Senate wins!

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Nielson Brothers Polling has painted a tough picture for us Democrats with this week's polls. Rounds leads Weiland 43–30, Noem leads Robinson 54–36, and Daugaard leads Wismer 53–29.

But if those numbers mean Robinson is toast and Wismer is cinders, then Nielson's numbers on Initiated Measure 18 mean 63,000 South Dakotans will get a raise at the polls. Nielson finds that 52.1% of respondents support the initiative to raise South Dakota's minimum wage to $8.50 an hour and index future annual increases to inflation. 28.4% say they'll vote no; 19.5% haven't decided.

The yea–nay spread on IM 18 is 24 points, equal to the Daugaard–Wismer spread. Increasing the minimum wage is as popular as Governor Daugaard. Workers, Democrats, you can decide whether you can muster more than a half-cheer for those numbers.

This support reflects (a bit palely, but it's still a win!) the national voters' and economists' support that makes IM 18 smart politics. The minimum wage initiative is rock-solid resistant to personal attacks; now Democratic candidates need to find a way to coattail this issue and others where Democratic values align with voters' values.

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Northern Plains News and Nielson Brothers Polling have released the third round of polling for their July survey of South Dakota voters. Like the U.S. Senate and gubernatorial races, NBP finds the Democrat trailing in the U.S. House race. But Republican Congresswoman Kristi Noem's double-digit lead over Corinna Robinson offers one small surprise:

  • Rep. Kristi Noem: 53.9%
  • Corinna Robinson: 35.8%
  • undecided: 10.2%

Noem's lead on Robinson is 18 percentage points, three points larger than the margin by which she beat Matt Varilek in 2012. (Lest we get too excited, around this point in 2012, Nielson Brothers found Varilek within one point of Noem.) Governor Dennis Daugaard's lead over Democrat Susan Wismer is 24 percentage points. Robinson is closer to Noem than Wismer is to Daugaard, even though Robinson has lower name recognition than Wismer (41.2% to Wismer's 48.9%—both distressingly low numbers with three months to go until Election Day).

Something stranger is going on in Robinson's favorability numbers:

robinson fav 2

Out of the minority who do recognize Robinson's name, folks with an unfavorable impression outnumber those with a favorable impression by more than two to one. Robinson's favorability gap is slightest among Dems, less than a percentage point. Over five times as many Republicans say "unfavorable" about Robinson than say favorable; among Indies, more than three times as many. That seems like a lot of dislike for generally polite prairie folk (especially those Indies) to express about someone who hasn't done much harm to anyone. I don't know whose dog she kicked, but Robinson better make sure she smiles really big for the remaining 58.8% of voters who are waiting to get to know her.

NBP finds Republicans favoring Noem over Robinson 6.6 to 1, Democrats favoring Robinson over Noem by a less passionate 3.5 to 1, and Independents leaning Noem 1.1 to 1. It wouldn't hurt to change some Republican minds, but Robinson should gin her base up to the unity the GOP is showing for their gal, then get to know those Indies, who bring the biggest batch of undecideds.

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Northern Plains News rolls out the latest results of an extensive Nielson Brothers Polling survey of South Dakota. In South Dakota's gubernatorial race, Democratic Rep. Susan Wismer faces a daunting climb to have a shot at unseating Republican Governor Dennis Daugaard:

Wismer's 24-point chasm, nearly double the gap Democratic Senate candidate Rick Weiland must close on Republican frontrunner Mike Rounds, is predictable. Wismer announced her candidacy in January and didn't really start working publicly hard on her campaign until mid-April. Weiland announced his candidacy in May 2013 and has been campaigning at full steam since last summer.

Adding to the lack of mathematical surprise is the fact that Wismer has just one Independent candidate, Mike Myers, to help divide her opponent's votes, and so far, the Myers constituency remains small (6.8% in NBP's survey) and undefined. Weiland has two former Republicans helping mix up his challenge to Rounds: Gordon Howie, who pulls feebly but almost exclusively from Republican voters, and Larry Pressler, who is currently pulling a few more Dems than Republicans.

Wismer's late start leaves her with remarkably weak name recognition. A majority of voters, 51.1%, told NBP they hadn't heard of Wismer. Rick Weiland had similar "Rick who?" numbers a couple months into his campaign, but he has worked for a year to tear that number down to a manageable 22%. Wismer could have compensated for the time disadvantage by leveraging her primary battle with Joe Lowe for more press, but apparently, no such advantage materialized... or maybe it did and simply brought the "Susan who" number down to 51.1% from 80%.

Whatever Wismer does in the next month to boost her name recognition, it needs to be really good. Whatever she's done to get name recognition in the past has turned off more voters than it has turned on. 20.6% of voters say they have an unfavorable impression of Wismer; 17.1% view her favorably. Wismer thus faces the unenviable task of flipping her unfavorables and winning new recognition.

The scary thing is that even if Wismer rectifies her name recognition and favorables, and even if she can drink all of Myers's milkshake and cast a spell on all the undecideds, she's still down six points from Daugaard's absolute majority.

Forget an October surprise; Wismer needs an August surprise! Nothing fancy, nothing diabolical or scandalous (although if you have pictures of Dennis Daugaard drinking mai-tais with Richard Benda in Makati, do send them my way!), just a grinding, non-stop bombardment of every parade, door, mailbox, county fair, newspaper, and blog with policy statements, solid and snappy critiques of the Daugaard administration, and pitches for campaign cash.

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Northern Plains News doesn't just provide new polling data from Nielson Brothers Polling on South Dakota's U.S. Senate race; NPN also provides nifty clickable widgets to display the data:

NBP is consistent with every other poll, showing Mike Rounds with a strong lead, Rick Weiland in second, and our two Independents and undecided taking up enough votes to make things interesting. NBP does find a far smaller segment of undecided voters than the Clarity Campaign Labs poll released by the South Dakota Democratic Party last week: Polling from July 16–23, Clarity found 29% were undecided; polling July 23–28, NBP found 20.4% made up their minds, leaving 8.6% undecided. (If there is any alignment between the Clarity and NBP numbers, Rounds got 9 of those newly deciding percentage points, Weiland 6, Pressler 4, and Howie 1.)

Compared to the Public Policy Polling numbers from May, NBP finds Rounds up 5 points and Weiland up 2. Back in June 2013, NBP found Rounds beating Weiland 54–27.

NBP finds Larry Pressler putting more drag on Weiland's total than Rounds's. Pressler pulls 17.9% of the Democrats in NBP's sample, 11.1% of Republicans, and 18.9% of independents and others. Multiply those percentages by the voter registration totals as of August 1, and Pressler would draw about 31,000 Democrats, 26,000 of his former fellow Republicans, and 19,000 now-fellow Indies and others.

The key to Weiland winning back those 31,000 errant Dems (focus up, people! unity!) may be continuing to build name recognition. In June 2013, NBP found 50% of voters didn't know who Rick Weiland was. PPP found 33% of voters still not knowing Rick in May; NBP finds 22% of voters still not knowing the best singer on the campaign trail. (I'm telling you, Rick: bring Amy Poehler here, and that 22% disappears faster than you can say, "Calm down, Katilin!")

Note also that the percentage of Democrats who say they don't know Rick, 17.6%, is really close to the percentage of Democrats who say they are voting for Pressler, 17.9%. Those two categories may have a lot of overlap (NBP could prove me wrong with cross-tabs!), as a lot of "Rick who?" Democrats might still have the good sense to say "No way!" to Rounds but default to Pressler's familiar face. (Pressler's name non-recogntion overall is 9.9%, Rounds's is 4.7%, because some people live under hay bales.) Rick, job one for August is to find those Rick-who?/Larry-default Dems and bring them back!

In Tea Party news, the NBP results show the Tea Party—whatever that amorphous blob of frightened Glenn-Beck parroters may be—having little effect on the outcome so far. Ultra-conservative Gordon Howie ought to be galvanizing those voters with his calls to theocracy, gunocracyborder lockdown, yet he is only drawing 14.1% of folks who call themselves Tea Party voters. 67.5% of Tea Party voters are voting in "blind loyalty" to the candidates other people are saying is supposed to win", Mike Rounds, the candidate who represents all the big-money and go-along-to-get-along politics that the Tea Party supposedly reviles. So much for that movement.

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Along with a pair of nifty ads, U.S. Senate candidate Rick Weiland also released a poll which celebrates the fact that he's five points behind Undecided and ten points behind Mike Rounds.

Go ahead, Republican readers, laugh it up. I'll wait....

Clarity Campaign Labs says it conducted this poll "on behalf of the South Dakota Democratic Party." The Democratic pollsters called 3,837 voters from July 16 to July 23. The margin of error is ±1.44%. The numbers:

  • Mike Rounds: 34%
  • Rick Weiland: 24%
  • Larry Pressler: 10%
  • Gordon Howie: 3%
  • Undecided: 29%

These numbers don't invite cigars. To win, Weiland would have to get the undecideds to (a) break better than two to one for him over Rounds and (b) not fall for Pressler or Howie. Alternatively, he's going to have to peel a few casual Rounds voters away, then hope that Rounds's propaganda about Pressler voters leaning Democrat is right and that a big chunk of them come to their senses before November.

Just who are those Pressler voters? Clarity Campaign Labs says 46% of the Pressler pickers in its pool said they are Independents. The rest split evenly between Republicans and Democrats, each comprising 27% of Pressler voters. Stir all those percentages together, and you find that in this sample, Pressler is winning about 6% of Republicans, 7% of Democrats,  and 35% of Independents.

Looking Pressler's predominantly Indy appeal, here's one small optimism bone we can throw Larry's way. Clarity Campaign Labs says its full sample was 49% Republican, 38% Democrat, and 13% Independent. Compare that to statewide voter registration numbers as of July 1, and you find both parties slightly overrepresented and Indies somewhat more underrepresented. Squeeze Clarity's figures into actual party proportions, and the party leaders drop a point or two while Pressler climbs as much as five points.

Pressler continues to campaign as if his most fertile field is Weiland's voters. On Monday, Pressler sent out a press release pledging to support Senator Tom Udall's (D-NM) proposed Constitutional amendment to reverse Buckley and Citizens United and limit political campaign contributions. Pressler also praised Harvard prof Lawrence Lessig's proposal to give voters $200 vouchers for campaign contributions. Pressler appears to be angling for some sugar from Lessig's new Mayday PAC, which this blog has said would be a perfect fit for Rick Weiland's anti-big-money campaign. Pressler may mean every word he says, but cynics in the audience have leeway to read Pressler banking on Weiland voters being easier pickings than Rounds voters.

Even Weiland's numbers show Rounds still ahead and a hard hill to climb for Democratic victory. But this poll shows Rounds far from a runaway and Pressler far from the overwhelming threat to Dem hopes that Rounds wants us to believe.

p.s. (20:49 CDT): Compare these poll numbers with the results of the Madville Times Senate poll we did last week. Among the presumably Dem-leaning readers of this blog, Pressler pulled 11% compared to Weiland's 66%. That's a slightly larger draw than Pressler's 7% among Democrats in the Clarity poll. One explanation for that difference is that readers (or at least poll-takers!) on this blog are not as uniformly lefty as some might think.

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