New S.D. poll reveals economic pessimism and dissatisfaction with democracy

New S.D. poll reveals economic pessimism and dissatisfaction with democracy

SDNW - SD Matters Polling Banner 2021-05-07.jpeg

Part one of a three-part series.

As the state emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic, some residents of South Dakota are uneasy about what life holds for future generations and many have only limited confidence in the effectiveness of some democratic institutions.

The findings are from a recent poll of 500 South Dakota residents conducted in a partnership between South Dakota News Watch and the Chiesman Center for Democracy at the University of South Dakota. The poll is part of an ongoing, expanding effort by News Watch called “South Dakota Matters,” which seeks to use statewide polls and online panel discussions to delve deeply into topics of critical importance to South Dakotans.

The poll questions revealed a mix of widely varying results.

While the economic questions in the poll show that some state residents remain hopeful for the future and have done a good job in saving money and preparing for retirement, a few questions spurred responses that showed a statistically relevant level of pessimism. Meanwhile, questions related to democratic institutions generally did not reveal confidence in federal government, but respondents did show confidence in local police, local government and the military.


The poll was conducted by Pulse Research of Oregon during the week of April 21-27, 2021. Respondents were contacted by phone and were roughly representative of the broader state population in regard to gender, age, and political affiliation. The poll included Native American respondents, though they were under-represented compared with the statewide Native population. The median income of the poll respondents was about 30% higher than that of the entire state. The margin of error is plus or minus four percentage points.

Here are some general findings from the poll; to view all poll results go online to

— Respondents showed great dissatisfaction with how democracy is working in America right now, and political party division and distrust of competing parties is high. Almost 65% of respondents were very or somewhat dissatisfied with how democracy is working, and nearly a third thought members of the opposing political party posed a “very serious threat” to America and its people.

— Respondents overall have a very little confidence in the effectiveness of the executive branch, of Congress, of political parties and of the press. They have a mixed level of confidence in the courts, state government and colleges and universities. They have very strong confidence in the military, local government and local police.

— Compared with Democrats and Independents, Republicans were much less confident in the executive branch, Congress, the courts, colleges and universities, political parties and the press. Democrats and Independents had far less confidence in state government than Republicans.

— Respondents overall support the citizen ballot initiative process and do not want the state Legislature to make it harder for initiatives to appear on the ballot.

— Compared with Republicans, Democrats and Independents were much more supportive of citizen ballot initiatives as an important part of the democratic process and felt more strongly that the Legislature should not make it more difficult.

— When asked if life is better for themselves compared with their parents at the same stage of life, nearly half of all respondents said they are doing the same or worse financially. Compared with men, women were less likely to say they were better off financially than their parents.


— When asked if life will be better or worse for their children or future generations, nearly three-quarters of all respondents said life will be the same or worse. Only one in five respondents said they expect life will be better for future generations in South Dakota.

— Compared with Democrats and Independents, Republicans were less likely to expect that life for future generations will be better. Compared with women, men were far more likely to report that life will be the same or worse for future generations.

— Three out of five respondents said they have three months’ worth of expenses in a savings account, though it is important to note that the median income of respondents was significantly higher than the rest of the state of South Dakota.

— Only a quarter of respondents felt “very secure” about how much money they have saved for retirement; about three quarters felt only somewhat secure or not secure at all.

— More than half of respondents said they were doing better financially than five years ago; about one in five said they were doing worse.

Coming next: Experts discuss poll results showing some pessimism over state’s future.

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