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Nielson Brothers Lean Right on ACA, Gay Marriage, Referred Law 16?

Last updated on 2012.09.02

Much-debated Nielson Brothers Polling has released Part 2 of its July survey of South Dakota voters, following up last week's candidate survey with data on "the direction of the state, social issues, economic confidence, and preference for state legislators." The new numbers:

  • Affordable Care Act: 50% say repeal, 37% say don't.
  • Same-sex marriage: 56% reject right to do so, 34% accept.
  • Economic confidence: 51% feel less confident than last year, 29% more confident, 21% "about the same."
  • Current state of U.S. economy: 1% say "excellent," 15% "good," 47% "only fair," 38% "poor."
  • Referred Law 16/House Bill 1234: 38% will vote against Governor Daugaard's school wrecking plan, 30% will vote for it.
  • Direction of South Dakota: 43% say we're headed in the right direction; 32% say wrong.
  • Party preference in local state senate race, generic candidate: 45% pick Republican, 35% pick Democrat, 20% undecided (apparently Independent either wasn't offered or didn't come up as an option).

Now, suppose you were the left-wing spin-doctors that the right-wing spin machine regularly dismisses Nielson Brothers Polling as. If you wanted to build a left-wing narrative, would you fudge and release the above numbers? Heck no!

  • On the Affordable Care Act, you'd show red-state repeal-squealers tying with ACA defenders at 40%, with 20% still considering the law.
  • On same-sex marriage, you'd at least show numbers unchanged from the narrow 52%&ndash48% margin by which we wrote anti-gay-marriage discrimination into our state constitution in 2006 (again, the smallest margin by which any state has banned same-sex marriage). But you'd more likely go whole hog and throw out some numbers closer to the May Madville Times poll that found 72% of respondents rejecting South Dakota's same-sex-marriage ban. (You'd then carefully ignore 50-50 results for Matt Varilek vs. Jeff Barth in the primary!)
  • On Referred Law 16, you'd show Governor Daugaard's right-wing ALEC-based education plan already drawing majority opposition... which would reflect my door-to-door experience gathering signatures this spring.

Anyone accusing Nielson Brothers Polling of salting their methodology or results with left-wing bias must the very least grant that said bias must be selectively applied. Of course, such a position would justify my claim from the above three examples demonstrate that Nielson Brothers Polling actually has some right-wing bias.

The simpler explanation is that NBP's one big whopper, their October 2010 result that said Scott Heidepriem was within three points of Dennis Daugaard in the governor's race, not the 23 points by which Heidepriem lost, is indeed the remarkable and inevitable outlier in data that otherwise is the best, most interesting we have on South Dakota politics.

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For nitpicky readers, here's NBP's methodology statement:

NBP surveyed a random selection of likely South Dakota voters July 19 - 23, 2012. The question on the direction of the state drew 571 responses, with a 4.10 percent margin of error. The question on generic state senate candidates drew 529 responses, with a 4.26 margin of error. The question on Referred Law 16 drew 519 responses, with a 4.30 percent margin of error. The question on the Affordable Care Act drew 516 responses, with a 4.31 percent margin of error. The question on economic confidence drew 512 responses, with a 4.33 percent margin of error. The question about opinions on the current state of the economy drew 511 responses, with a 4.34 percent margin of error. The question on same sex marriage drew 510 responses, with a 4.34 margin of error [press release, Nielson Brothers Polling, 2012.08.07].


  1. mike 2012.08.08

    I think Noem is polling much closer with Varilek then originally thought. I sure wish Varilek would get his name id up ASAP.

  2. Dougal 2012.08.08

    There's no question - not even worth debating - that the Nielson Brothers jumped the shark as their polling debut with the "victory is at hand," ludicrous Heidepriem vs. Daugaard poll. Should have shamed them into early retirement.

    Maybe they've sorted out their methodology. I have doubts. Machine interviews can't compete with the quality interviews of live operators, yet machine interviews is what the Nielsons use. So does Rasmussen polls, which appear to manipulate and support the Republican narrative.

    If machine interviews are the future of polling, the future is ending.

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