South Dakota Democratic Party

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South Dakota Democratic Party
ChairpersonAnn Tornberg[1]
HeadquartersSioux Falls, SD
Social liberalism
Political positionCenter to Center-left
National affiliationDemocratic Party
Seats in the Upper House
6 / 35
Seats in the Lower House
10 / 70

The South Dakota Democratic Party is the affiliate of the Democratic Party in South Dakota.


South Dakota, since its inception in 1889, has been a red state through and through despite substantial changes to political party platforms. Truth be told, the history of the state's Democratic Party can be condensed into two separate decades, each marked by a very different national atmosphere and legislative approach to past agrarian failures.

1914 was a milestone for the Democrats when they won South Dakota's first senate election by popular vote with their first statewide elected official, Edwin S. Johnson. This was their first success since William Jennings Bryan successfully campaigned (a novelty at the time) for the state's electoral votes in 1896 with help from an agrarian crisis. Though it wasn't until the sweeping elections of 1932 that they firmly take control as the party of the New Deal. In those 4 years, with supermajorities and the governorship, they were able to set about securing newly available federal aid, replacing property tax with income and sales taxes, and instituting unemployment insurance.[2]

While Democrats managed only one solid two-year election cycle in the 40s and 50s, a young 2-term House member and Kennedy administration veteran with a strong understanding of agricultural policy changed their fortunes when he squeaked out a win against incumbent Joe Foss in 1962's Senate election. Vietnam War opponent George McGovern's popularity and profile was on an upward trajectory that would only be shadowed by his presidential run in 1972. Even then, he continued to serve in the U.S. Senate for 9 more years as his party came to power at the state level.

Forty years after the New Dealers had brokered a tenuous, short-lived agreement with the farmers and workers of South Dakota and ninety years after The Boy Orator of the Platte wooed voters on his "Whirlwind through the Midwest", the Democrats were back. This time, they rode two decades of failed farm politics and favorite son McGovern's election bid to a slim 1 seat majority in the Senate, even slimmer tie breaking control in the House and a re-election win by Governor Richard F. Kneip. An electronic voterbase and superior get-out-the-vote operation helped many overcome long-time Republican incumbents who'd become lethargic campaigners.[3]

At about the same time in 1968, South Dakota Democrats gained a relatively small but increasingly active voting group when the Indian Civil Rights Act was passed.[4] Since then, the state has created house districts 28A (in 1996) and 26A (in 2012) as majority-minority districts. These seats have been mostly reliably blue in an otherwise sea of red outside larger cities.

Since their heyday in the seventies, Democrats have fallen hard and fast in large part due to divisions within the state party caused by wedge issues like Roe v. Wade and the Oahe Irrigation Project.[5] Oahe was supported by party leaders like George McGovern but blocked by environmentalists as well as the Democratic President at the time, Jimmy Carter.[6] This splintering was only magnified by the fading of McGovern from the political spotlight, a liberal mainline Protestant who had tried to keep himself and his party insulated from the religiously conservative backlash against liberal social policies.[5] While most couldn't avoid the inevitable conservative red wave (including McGovern himself), two Democratic representatives and senators, Tom Daschle and Tim Johnson, followed in his footsteps, each winning elections over the course of two decades in spite of an increasingly conservative statewide electorate that voted for Republican Presidents, Governors and legislatures from year to year.

Trends don't look as if they are going to reverse themselves any time soon with just 31% of voters registered as Democrats compared to 46% Republicans,[7] though there is room for improvement even as is. For the first time since the early 1950s, Republicans will hold every statewide elected office and have more than 25 Senators for at least 4 years. To top it off, they had their best showing in the House in 2016 in 40 years and won their record 12th straight presidential vote.[8] Not to mention, the 45% margin in last year's governor's race.[9] To those points, Democrats in South Dakota are now looking for a reset which will reshape the state party to draw in voters from all ideological backgrounds.

Current elected leaders[edit]

The South Dakota Democratic Party does not hold any of the statewide offices and is a minority in both the South Dakota Senate and the South Dakota House of Representatives. Democrats have no members in the state's U.S Congressional delegation (the U.S Senate seats or the House At-Large seat).

  • 6 seats in the State Senate and 10 seats in the State House
  • None

External links[edit]


  1. ^ "Ann Tornberg of Beresford Elected SDDP Chair". South Dakota Democratic Party. December 14, 2014. Retrieved February 15, 2015.
  2. ^ "Tom Berry". National Governors Association. Retrieved 18 October 2012.
  3. ^ "Dakota Midday: The Democratic Surge Of The 1970s". SDPB Radio (Podcast). Friends of South Dakota Public Broadcasting. 7 July 2016. Retrieved 4 March 2017.
  4. ^ Robert J. McCarthy, Civil Rights in Tribal Courts; The Indian Bill of Rights at 30 Years, 34 IDAHO LAW REVIEW 465 (1998).
  5. ^ a b "The Collapse of the Democratic Party in South Dakota: What Happened?". Apple Valley, MN: PowerLine. 21 December 2014. Retrieved 4 March 2017.
  6. ^ "A history of how a grassroots rebellion won a water war". High Country News. 12 April 1999. Retrieved 4 March 2017.
  7. ^ "Voter Registration Tracking". Pierre, SD: South Dakota Secretary of State. Retrieved 4 March 2017.
  8. ^ "5 most depressing statistics for South Dakota Democrats". Rapid City, SD: Rapid City Journal. 3 January 2016. Retrieved 4 March 2017.
  9. ^ "Election Results: Statewide Races". South Dakota Secretary of State. Retrieved 5 November 2014.