In Midwestern Meltdown, I looked at the decline of the Democratic Party in the American Heartland. Democrats are bracing themselves for huge losses in the Midwest. Nowhere has this decline been more precipitous than in the Dakotas.
55% of Midwesterners disapprove of Barack Obama’s job performance, six percentage points higher than the rest the country. 66% of rural Americans believe America is on the wrong track, five percentage points higher than voters as a whole.
In North Dakota and South Dakota, all these negative trends come together and reinforce each other: disillusioned, rural, populist, White Midwesterners – typical Red Americans – who vote Democrat and supported Barack Obama in 2008.
Like Montana, North Dakota was a swing state in the 2008 presidential election. John McCain carried both states, but only by 49% and 53% respectively. McCain also carried South Dakota with a dismal 53% of the vote.
87% of South Dakotans and 90% of North Dakotans are White. The White percentage of the electorate is higher still because American Indians are the largest minority in Upper Plains. In few other states has White support for the Democratic Party been as radically out of sync with the values of rural White Midwesterners.
For two decades, North Dakota has sent a solid Democratic congressional delegation to Washington. In the Senate, North Dakota is represented by Kent Conrad and Byron Dorgan. In the House, by Earl Pomeroy.
Byron Dorgan is retiring this year. John Hoeven, a Republican, leads his Democratic challenger by a three-to-one margin. Earl Pomeroy, who won reelection in 2006 and 2008 by 31 and 24 points, is now trailing his Republican challenger. Kent Conrad will face North Dakota voters in 2012.
South Dakota is represented in the Senate by John Thune and Tim Johnson. In 2004, Thune defeated Tom Daschle, then Senate Majority Leader. Johnson was lucky enough to ride the Democratic wave to reelection in 2008. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin is facing a tough challenge from Kristi Noem to retain her House seat.
Once upon a time, George McGovern and Tom Daschle came out of South Dakota. William Jennings Bryan of Nebraska slammed the monied interests of the East for crucifying labor upon a “Cross of Gold.” A search engine query for “Prairie Populism” turns up all sorts of interesting results.
America’s Blue elite is incapable of holding on to the White voters now in their column. The economy is booming in North Dakota, with its $1 billion dollar budget surplus and 3.7% unemployment rate, but rage against Washington is at record highs, in spite of the fact that North Dakotans receive $1.68 from Washington for every $1.00 they pay in taxes.
This suggests a more fundamental transformation is going on.