Who are South Dakotans? Are we really who we think we are? Are we changing? Do we want change? What are our aspirations and our fears? What values hold us together and what values pull us apart?
Ask most South Dakotans these questions, and they will answer with anecdotes; anecdotes about their own family history and experiences, or opinions based deeply in their own personal values. But it is almost impossible to find a broader picture of who we are as a state and community of citizens. South Dakotans cannot answer these questions because no institution exists to test our anecdotal experience against a larger scientific sample collected and analyzed over time.
That is about to change.
Long term, in-depth polling of a community is traditionally the purview of universities, large newspapers and television networks, non-profit think tanks with an agenda, or even corporate sponsored marketing surveys. No such research institution exists in South Dakota.
Citizens are left to search for the local meaning of data collected by institutions such as the Federal Reserve Bank in Minneapolis, that study South Dakota as a small part of broader aggregate regional studies. Even more difficult, we are left to find our place on the margins of a national poll. Or, we are left to draw conclusions from private polls sponsored by political candidates who selectively report results that promote a candidate or policy in an upcoming election.
All that is about to change.
The Dakota Poll is a private, non-partisan, survey of South Dakota citizens that will be conducted four times a year for the next five years. It is underwritten by a small group of private individuals who do not support any single candidate or political party. The poll is conducted by the polling firm RBI Strategies and Research of Denver, Colorado.
Since the first DakotaPoll will be released a week before the election, it is natural to ask why it will not address the buzz of the Congressional and Gubernatorial campaigns. It is natural for people to wonder “Who’s ahead?” …as if the horserace is all that matters. But the Dakota Poll is simply not designed to be a partisan venue. Its long-term credibility depends on its independence from the hard-nosed partisanship of elections and individual candidates. The Dakota Poll is about South Dakotans, not about an individual candidate.
Candidate driven polls can tell us much about what we think of individual candidates after we have been bombarded with hundreds of thousands of dollars of advertising. But they tell individual candidates nothing about what they should think of us.
Most importantly, the Dakota Poll is not a one-time effort. The project will last at least five years.
The Dakota Poll is completely transparent. Tabulated topline results, methodology, and more complicated, back-end cross-tabs, will be available to the press, scholars, and the public, free, at the website dakotapoll.com.
Some polls will explore narrow themes such as the role of religion in our lives, our attitudes toward citizenship and civic responsibility, how the South Dakota economy shapes the everyday lives of our citizens, the ways we gather and use information, or specific issues of the day. Other polls will explore baseline information to study how our lives and attitudes change over time as the world changes around us. Within each poll, cross-tabs will help us explore the effects of region, age, and income on our attitudes.
The Dakota Poll will not limit its surveys to “likely voters” or “registered voters”. Over the course of many polls and many years, the Dakota Poll will survey a cross-selection of all South Dakota citizens whether or not they are active voters.
The Dakota Poll is an opportunity for South Dakotans to engage in a process of self-exploration and discovery at a critical time in the state’s history.
The first Dakota Poll was conducted by RBI Strategies and Research the third week in October, 2010. It explored how South Dakotans are affected by today’s economy, our optimism and pessimism about the state and its future, and our opinions about the extent of our ability to influence the course of events in the state. Results will be released on Wednesday, October 27, 2010.
DakotaPoll.com Advisory Group
For RBI Strategies and Research: Lauren Stackpole, Deputy Director of Research