Thunder Butte

November 06, 2008

Ziebach County Vote

Politicians in the rural parts of the country have to spend a lot of time on the road. Out in western South Dakota, a place that is either the wide open spaces or the middle of nowhere—take your pick—getting elected usually means putting hundreds of miles on your car in a single day to get from one small town to the next. An interesting piece that ran in the Rapid City Journal last February tells the story of the extended travels that local politicians have to undertake to keep in touch with their constituents. You can find that story here.

Interestingly, despite the great lengths local politicians have to go to in order to get elected and stay in office, neither of the major party candidates for President visited South Dakota during this election cycle. There weren't enough votes. It wasn't a battleground state. Everyone knew how the state would vote. All good enough reasons, I guess, if it didn't leave South Dakotans feeling too disgruntled. South Dakota voted decisively, and as expected, for John McCain on November 4th.

Yet, when you look at a county by county map of the state, that sea of “red” is broken here and there by a pocket of “blue,” a place where voters bucked the local tide and voted for Barack Obama. Ziebach County is apparently one of those little pockets of mostly Democratic voters interspersed throughout the western part of the state. And, yet, if you are not familiar with South Dakota, why this would be the case isn't entirely clear.

It's the tribal areas. Every “blue” county in the western part of the state is a reservation county. Ziebach County is mostly on the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation. North and to the east is the Standing Rock Reservation. Down south are the Pine Ridge and Rosebud Reservations. The contrast between predominantly white districts and those that are mostly Native American can't be more clear. Take, for example, the town of Faith, adjacent to Ziebach County and the Cheyenne River Reservation, but located in Meade County. According to the 2000 Census, Faith was 90 percent white. It probably hasn't changed very much since then. (No criticism; that's just the way it is.) Voters in Faith turned out for McCain. In Ziebach County, 72 percent of residents are Native American. They voted for Obama.

If you've visited the tribal areas, you know that many people live in abject poverty. There aren't many jobs. Social problems are rampant. Not many people have a great deal of hope. So, it should come as no surprise that when one major party candidate preaches change and the other reminds those people of more of the same, the status quo, then the choice is pretty clear. Tribal areas didn't vote for the candidate they perceived as more of the same.

--Mike Crowley

Editor's Note--Ordinarily, I would be extraordinarily scrupulous about keeping politics out of this blog. This blog isn't intended to be a place for political commentary. There are plenty of other places for that. I'm merely commenting and speculating here. Whether you draw the same conclusions or not, that's up to you. If your analysis differs, please share your comments!
Mike Crowley Thursday, November 06, 2008


Just a note to say my analysis doesn't differ at all! It's hard to see how you could read the results any other way. Also to say you don't have to be diffident about covering the topic - hey, if a blog can't relate to one of the biggest events of recent years, what's it for!

Thanks for blogging about a - some might say "remote' - area few people know much about.
The next time you are up in this area of Ziebach County look me up and we can have a cup of coffee and talk about the history of the area along with how one runs a campaign in these wide open spaces. During the day you can find me at Farmers State Bank in Faith or in the evening on Main Street in Isabel, at the café, I own.

Ryan Maher
Ryan, if you've read many of my posts, you probably know that I live outside of the area. But, I will look you up next time I visit.

--Mike Crowley

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