South Dakota and the Native American Vote

By: Inoljt,

A while ago I was perusing the election results, when I happened upon South Dakota. South Dakota is one of those conservative Plains states which everybody writes off as inevitably Republican. Yet nobody has a really good explanation for why Democrats can't win it; it's kind of like Indiana that way. Few people know this, but Bill Clinton actually came within four percent of winning the state during both elections.

In any case, Barack Obama lost South Dakota by 8.41%, a substantial but not overwhelming margin (I bet he could win it, but that's not the point of this post). This New York Times map indicates how he did in each county:


There is an extremely strong correlation between Indian reservations and Obama's share of the vote in South Dakota.

Check it out:


More below.

In fact, the only dark blue county not located within an Indian reservation (Clay County) is home to the University of South Dakota.

Thus, for such a homogeneous state, the county-by-county results show a striking polarization, especially in the western portion of the state. McCain is winning 61.64% of the vote in Fall River County (the bottom left one); directly to the right, Obama is winning 88.69% of the vote in Shannon County. One would expect to see such results in a racially divided area; places like Detroit or Louisiana.

One certainly would not expect Obama to win 88.69% of the vote in any county located in the vicinity of the Dakotas. Shannon County's result certainly surprised me.

As it turns out, Shannon County is smack in the middle of Pine Ridge Indian Reservation; more than 90% of the population is Native American.

All this is extremely interesting, because I hadn't expected the Native American vote to be so overwhelmingly Democratic. If you had asked me to guess how Native Americans voted in 2008, I might have estimated that 60% went for Obama. Yet South Dakota's results indicate San-Francisco-level support for Obama amongst Native Americans.

I can only provide guesses on why this is. Native American communities are extremely impoverished, and thus probably more receptive to Democrats in general. Shannon County is the second-poorest county in the United States (the poorest county is another reservation located in South Dakota). Sarah Palin's "Real America®" theme probably didn't help either. Race probably was a factor, but I have no idea how big a role it played. But even taking all these factors into account, it's still surprising that somewhere between 70-90% of Native Americans voted Democratic.

I don't think anybody has actually gone to these reservations and asked why everybody voted for Obama. Then again, I don't think many people thought about the Native American vote in the first place.

They should. If the Democrats ever get competitive in South Dakota, they'd better pay attention to the Native Americans.

Tags: 2008 election, Democrats, election analysis, native americans, Politics, Republicans, South Dakota (all tags)



Re: South Dakota and the Native American Vote

Thanks for this diary and its education. In spite of the liberal nature of the Democratic party and its roots, it is extraordinary that you seldom hear references to 'the poor' from the mouths of its representatives any more. Today, it must just be assumed that we are the party of the poor. Literal mention of their plight seems detrimental and something that we have to get over.

by MainStreet 2009-11-24 06:01PM | 0 recs
Re: South Dakota and the Native American Vote

I don't think anybody has actually gone to these reservations and asked why everybody voted for Obama.

If by anybody, you mean "white journalists," then you're right. But Indians talk to Indians and they print the results, and others write to explain themselves, same as any other journalist, pundit, or academic. The rest of just don't listen, but the voices are out there speaking. cs/campaign2008/33875824.html cs/27274049.html n/33352679.html

Then again, I don't think many people thought about the Native American vote in the first place.

Actually, the Obama campaign had a staffer assigned to it, and H. Clinton and Richardson both spoke on reservations during the primaries. Here's an interview with Obama's staffer. al/30714789.html

(ICT is the nation's biggest Indian newspaper. Navajo Nation and are other good sources.)

by Nathan Empsall 2009-11-25 05:32AM | 0 recs
Re: South Dakota and the Native American Vote

I said Navajo Nation. I meant Navajo Times. Beg your pardon.

by Nathan Empsall 2009-11-25 05:33AM | 0 recs
Re: South Dakota and the Native American Vote

Be careful here.  Native Americans have produced people like Ben Whitehorse.

That said, one would truly like to help Native Americans with legislation such as FDR's 1934 act.
Still, the best way to help Native Americans-and the rest of the poor-is to help everybody, through a mixed economy and a universal welfare state.  That is something that FDR, old-style American radicals, and West European Social Democrats-but not LBJ, New Leftists, and people over at the Open Left-understand.

by demjim 2009-11-25 05:47AM | 0 recs
Re: South Dakota and the Native American Vote

No, the best way to help Native Americans is to give tribal nations state-like sovereignty over their own lands, as is mandated by the Constitution and numerous Court rulings but so rarely respected.

FDR's 1934 law (the Indian Reorganization Act) was not entirely a good thing. Like many laws before it, it had good intentions but was essentially patronizing and colonial. BIA head John Collier and FDR thought they knew best for the Indians and were going to give it to them, rather than working with them to find out what they thought was best for themselves. The IRA told Indian nations how they had to set up their governments and imposed systems and bureaucracies on them rather than allowing them to use traditional forms of government, often consensus-based rather than vote-based. These systems were democratic, but were still imposed. The IRA did put a stop to decades of land swindles resulting from the Dawes Act, though, and that was certainly a good thing. Some good changes came out of that law, but it was still indicitative of the colonial mindset.

Better laws to point to include the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act of 1975, the 1992 amendments to the Clean Water Act, the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978, and the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act of 1990. What I'd like to see next is a law overturning the 1978 SCOTUS decision Oliphant v. Suquamish Indian Tribe, which stripped tribes of criminal jurisdiction over non-Natives. The legal reasoning in the case makes zero sense and has had devestating results, such as an Indian Country rape rate twice that of the larger country's. It would be easy to fix - the decision was rooted in interpretation of statutes, not the Constitution, and so new statutes can overturn it.

by Nathan Empsall 2009-11-25 06:10AM | 0 recs
Re: South Dakota and the Native American Vote

I've enjoyed your posts, your entire series, but when you say Clinton came "within 4 points" and thus the state is winnable, it should be with the caveat of a 3 person race.

Clinton got 43% of the vote in '96. Obama got 44.5 %. Yet Clinton came closer than Obama because of Perot. In a two person race 80% of Perot voters will vote GOP in states like these.

Breaking that coalition is one of the keys to Democratic success going forward. Obama made some inroads, but most of the Perot voters still went GOP.

by vecky 2009-11-26 02:55PM | 0 recs


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