State Spotlight: The Dakotas

Some states are just too close to call, right up to the night of the election. The states of North Dakota and South Dakota (hereby collectively referred to as the Dakotas), are no such states. In fact, there are few states on the electoral map of the United States that I would be surer of remaining red. Nevertheless, I am going to dive into exactly why these states are so inclined to vote Republican instead of Democratic.

The South Dakota State Capitol in Pierre

If one were to ask you to name the capital city of either North Dakota or South Dakota, or better yet, to even name a town or city from either of the two states, I can guarantee you’d have to sit back and think for a bit. If like me, you live outside the U.S., you’d be excused for not having the foggiest idea. That is because, similarly to Nebraska, the Dakotas are regarded as a sort of ‘flyover state’; not on the east coast, not on the west coast; flyover country. Very little time, nor attention, is afforded to the Dakotas in popular culture, meaning that very little attention is afforded to them in reality. The result, for most Americans, is that the Dakotas each get five minutes of fame every four years, during election night, even their state is called for the Republicans – everyone then either gets a little happier or a little sadder, when each Dakota’s three Electoral College electors are assigned to the Republican candidate. Then, everyone forgets about the Dakotas again.

That said, the Dakotas present six electors that are up for grabs, and as I have been at pains to state throughout this series, elections can come down to the tightest of margins (see Florida in 2000). Anyway, the capital of North Dakota is called Bismarck (yes, after that Bismarck, the only U.S. state capital named after a foreign statesman) and the capital of South Dakota is Pierre. While both states are very rural, with both Bismarck and Pierre being nowhere close to bustling metropoleis, they are both remarkable for different features. For example, whereas South Dakota’s economy traditionally relies more on agricultural production, North Dakota is far more reliant on the harvesting of natural resources, the biggest money-spinner of them all being oil.

North Dakota’s oil production is amongst the highest in the U.S. and is by far the highest in the midwestern region. Of all the states, North Dakota is the second highest producer of oil by barrels per day, only surpassed by Texas (also, not including oil drilled in the Gulf of Mexico). North Dakota farms over 1M barrels of oil every day, which goes a long way to maintaining the U.S.’s status as the number one oil supplier in the world, which in turn supports the U.S.’s status as a world hegemon.

However, South Dakota is by no means overshadowed by their northern neighbours. South Dakota is a key part of the breadbasket belt of the U.S., adding over $21Bn to the U.S. economy every year in agricultural industry alone. Not to mention that South Dakota is the home of Mount Rushmore, an iconic monument to some of the most historic American Presidents. No matter how much oil North Dakota mines, they can’t move mountains (unless they revive fracking).

Anyway, the point is that the Dakotas aren’t just a couple of redundant states, they genuinely add a lot to the economy and culture of the U.S., even if most people at first don’t appreciate that.

Amongst the Most Unimpressive State Capitols is North Dakota's, Situated in Bismarck


In terms of race, the Dakotas rank amongst the whitest states in the country, with South Dakota is 82.3% white and North Dakota being 84.4% white. Similarly, their Hispanic population is minimal (3.6% SD; 3.5% ND), as with their black population (1.9% SD; 3% ND), and their Asian population (1.2% SD; 1.7% ND). The largest minority group in both Dakotas are Native American Indians (8.6% SD; 5.4% ND). Yet, with all that in mind, that is a very white and very rural group of voters. If you’ve managed to read any of the other State Spotlight instalments, you’ll know that that is a key demographic within the Republican Party’s electoral coalition.

However, contrary to that assumption is the median age for the Dakotas, which is 35.2 years and 37.1 years for North and South Dakota respectively. This came as a surprise to me, but upon reflection, it is likely due to the laborious work that needs to be conducted in these two states. As already noted, drilling for oil and agriculture; hardly work for older people.

Electoral History

In the absence of any reliable polling on the states, we are forced to draw conclusions from the Dakotas’ electoral histories. When it comes to swing states, I am reluctant to draw any firm conclusions from previous elections, because so much can change in four years of a Presidency (as we are seeing). However, when we’re looking at states that we’re almost certain will go to a specific party anyway, the electoral history of a state solidifies any assumptions we may have.

North Dakota

Much like both Alaska and Idaho, two states we have looked at previously in the series, North Dakota last went blue in 1964, when Lyndon B. Johnson was re-elected after the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Ever since North Dakota has been a firmly red state. In fact, in the last election, Donald Trump won over 62% of the vote in North Dakota, which is a comfortable return for him.

Furthermore, North Dakota’s Governor, Doug Burgum, is a Republican, as are the state’s two Senators and their only Representative in the House. The last Democratic Governor of North Dakota was George A. Sinner, whose last day in office was in 1992. Since then the Governorship of North Dakota has been a solely Republican performance.

South Dakota

Moving south, we see an eerily similar picture. The last time they went blue was in 1964, the Governor, two Senators and Representative in the House are all Republicans. Donald Trump won South Dakota by just shy of the 62% mark in 2016. Still though, a comfortable victory for him.

These two states are two sides of the same coin, certainly when it comes to politics anyway. They vote the same, they act the same. Unify the Dakotas and let’s have D.C. statehood! It is difficult to imagine an eventuality in which Donald Trump does not take the Dakotas in November. I mean, if he were to lose them, he would have to leave not just the White House, but I should imagine the United States, just out of sheer disgrace.

No, I should think we are safe to conclude that the Dakotas will fall gently into the hands of the Republican Party in 2020. As such, they will be added to the map accordingly, in deep red.

The State Spotlight Map, As It Stands...


Democrats: Light Blue (State leaning Democratic), Medium Blue (State likely Democratic), Dark Blue (State almost certainly Democratic)

Republicans: Light Red (State leaning Republican), Medium Red (State likely Republican), Dark Red (State almost certainly Republican)

Other: Dark Gold (Uncertain which way a state may go), State Showing More Than One Colour (State awards EC Votes through mixed district system)

The Politician Independent Newspaper, created in 2020