Results Suggest that Voters Would Support “Nebraska-Style” Non-Partisan Legislature
With only days remaining before the 2013 session of the South Dakota Legislature convenes, a new Dakota Poll survey of registered voters regarding public attitudes toward the state Legislature, suggests that a large majority of South Dakotans (60%-32%) believe that “politics in Pierre has become too partisan” and that the Legislature is doing an ineffective job of dealing with the most pressing issues facing the state.
Survey respondents also agreed, by a margin of 56% to 41%, that “the South Dakota legislature is controlled too much by lobbyists and special interests”.
Over the last two decades, both houses of the South Dakota legislature have become heavily dominated by the Republican Party. In 2013, the House of Representatives will include 53 Republicans and only 17 Democrats. In the Senate, the balance is 28 Republicans and 7 Democrats. While GOP state leaders remain widely popular, by an overwhelming majority, 78% to 20%, survey respondents said, “One party government is a bad idea.”
Survey respondents were asked about two policy innovations to make the legislature more non-partisan and more transparent. By a large majority of 62% to 33% those surveyed said they would favor a “non-partisan legislature modeled on the current Nebraska state government, in which individuals would compete in non-partisan primaries without party designations, and the top two vote getters competing against each other in the general election.
By an even larger majority of 82% to 17% survey respondents said they would support a law to establish tougher disclosure law on lobbying income and expenses.
Survey respondents were asked to grade the Legislature on a scale of “excellent, good, fair, and poor” on its handling of fourteen different policy problems facing the state ranging from “providing adequate funding for K-12 public education”, to “spending taxpayer dollars wisely”, to “helping South Dakota get more high wage jobs.” Strong majorities judged the Legislature to be doing a “fair to poor job”, and in no policy area did the number of respondents who believe that the Legislature is doing an “excellent” job rise out of single digits.
In particular, the Legislature continues to be haunted by public dissatisfaction with its effort to properly support public education. Only 8% of respondents said that the Legislature was doing an “excellent” job of “providing adequate funding for K-12 public education,” while 37% said that the legislature was doing a “poor” job. When asked whether the legislature is “Making sure our education system is creating workers attractive to industry”, only 5% of respondents said the Legislature was doing an “excellent” job. 24% said the legislature was doing a “poor” job. Similarly, when asked if the Legislature was doing a good job of “Making sure our educational system is creating workers qualified to compete for high wage jobs”, only 7% gave the Legislature an “excellent” grade, while 23% gave it a “poor” grade.
Respondents were given the open-ended opportunity to say what “the most important issue that leaders in Pierre should be focused on” in 2013. 31% said that they wanted the focus put on education. 16.1% said “Budget”. 15.6% answered “Economy”. Only 4.3% suggested that the Legislature should focus on taxes. By a margin of 65%–31% respondents agreed with the statement, “The Legislature spends too much time and energy on the abortion issue.”
In policy areas where the state is heavily supported by federal spending (“roads and highways” and “protecting the environment” ), the number of respondents who believe the Legislature is doing an “excellent/good” job approached bare majorities of 48% and 53% respectively. But in policy areas where the state is dependent on its own resources and has only small support from the federal government–“helping South Dakota get more high-wage jobs”, and “providing the right tools to attract new jobs to South Dakota” — the public grades the Legislature poorly. 70% of respondents thought the Legislature is doing a “fair to poor” job of “Helping South Dakota get more high-wage jobs”. Only 28% said that the Legislature is doing an “excellent/good” job.
Only 42% of respondents said that the legislature was doing an “excellent/good” job of “Providing the right tools to attract new jobs to South Dakota”, whereas 56% said that the Legislature was doing a “fair /poor” job.
A large number of South Dakotans know at least one member of the legislature, but voter participation in the processes of government is low. Only 3% of respondents say they have made a phone call to a member of the Legislature. 14% have sent a letter. 13% have attended a meeting. But 70% have had no contact with a member of the Legislature at all.
While President Obama has very high “unfavorable” ratings among South Dakota voters, 55% unfavorable compared to 42% favorable, Governor Daugaard receives high marks, with a 66% favorable-25% unfavorable rating. Representative Kristi Noem has more difficulty with voters, scoring only a 56% favorable/40% unfavorable rating. With a “very unfavorable” rating of 24%, Congresswoman Noem continues to feel the effects from Novermber’s tough re-election campaign.
U.S. Senator John Thune continues to be extraordinarily popular with voters. His overall favorable rating is 75%, compared to a 21% unfavorable rating. While Democratic Senator Tim Johnson is also popular, with 60% favorable and 32% unfavorable. Johnson lags far behind his potential 2014 opponent, former Governor Mike Rounds, who scored a strong 72% favorable rating compared to only 23% negative. Rounds’ high favorability rating and low unfavorable rating suggests that Johnson will have his hands full holding on to his seat in 2014.