UNDATED – South Dakotans have some pretty big decisions to make casting their ballots this fall, including the race for governor.
A new poll has somewhat surprising findings surrounding the contest as voters consider the state’s future. The South Dakota State University poll shows Republican incumbent Kristi Noem leading her Democratic challenger, Sen. Jaime Smith D-Sioux Falls, by just four percentage points.
David Wiltse, political science professor at South Dakota State University, said it is noteworthy the race is this close considering South Dakota is a deeply “red” state, and Noem strongly embraces conservative ideals. But he does not predict a seismic shift based on the results.
“Even if they were to elect Jamie Smith the governor, that’s really not going to change the trajectory of policy in this state,” Wiltse projected.
This fall, South Dakotans also will decide whether to expand Medicaid, an idea Noem opposes. Polls on the question have indicated bipartisan support for expansion, but Wiltse does not see any connection between the issue and voters’ views about the current governor.
He added Noem has a history of close elections and has always squeaked out a win. However, she is getting more unwanted attention this time, including an ethics matter over personal use of a state plane.
The poll showed a larger number of Republicans among the state’s undecided voters, and Wiltse thinks they will ultimately support Noem, noting it speaks to the high-level negative partisanship in politics today.
“That demonization of one’s opponent,” Wiltse pointed out. “That just makes it all the harder for people to split their ticket.”
He added the poll shows the gender-gap issue Republicans have encountered nationally has trickled down to state-level races. Noem has only 39% of support among women, but 52% of men said they back the governor.