SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Registered Democrats in South Dakota are continuing on a downward trend while other party affiliations continue to grow with the number of registered voters.

According to the latest data from the South Dakota Secretary of State, 49% of the total voters in the state are registered as Republicans. That’s not surprising to David Wiltse, an associate professor and director of SDSU polls at South Dakota State University.

“[South Dakota] doesn’t lean Republican. It’s solidly Republican,” Wiltse said. “Virtually a single party state. Yeah. So, whenever it comes, whenever there comes a question as to what party an individual is going to register for, they’re highly incentivized to join the party where the political competition is.”

While there is a slight increase in registered Independents according to the most recent September data, Wiltse said it’s best not to read too much into that. For one, he said, registering as an Independent could mean different things to different people: Not wanting to affiliate with either party, not marking a party on the registration form, or selecting “other.”

“And when it comes right down to it, most Independents behave like partisans,” Wiltse said. “They have very strong feelings towards one party or the other, they vote with them regularly, they give money to them just as often as people who identify as Democrats or Republicans and just for whatever reason, they’ve decided to say, ‘Well, I’m independent, or I’m not part of that team’, even though every other indication in their behavior says they are.”

Wiltse added that the surge in Independent registrations could be a result of registration drives before the primary in June.

“There [were] some really important– one really important question on the ballot there. So, a lot of that push might have led to more registrants, but a disproportionate number of people saying I’m not going to be in one of the parties,” Wiltse said.

On whether ballot measures like marijuana may drive people to the polls this November, Wiltse isn’t sure it will be “overwhelming.”

“I mean, most people aren’t that concerned with marijuana legalization. You’ve got some very intense support and very intense opposition, but I don’t see that as something that’s going to be driving a groundswell of participation in this coming election,” Wiltse said.

Straight ticket voting and negative partisanship

Compared to thirty years ago, Wilste said today’s voters are less likely to split their tickets when voting.

“That just doesn’t happen as much anymore. There’s not as much ideological diversity within the parties that could accommodate that kind of ticket-splitting,” Wiltse said.

Now, negative partisanship seems to be driving politics across the country. 

“And there’s been this rise in the last 10 or 15 years of what we call negative partisanship, where the negative feelings we have towards the other party are stronger than the positive feelings that we have towards our own. So, when you have that going on, the probability that somebody is going to vote for someone of the opposite party is very low. And it’s why people will consistently vote for their party even for candidates that they have some very big misgivings about,” Wiltse said.

The professor pointed to the 2016 election as an example of such partisanship. Nominee Donald Trump didn’t fare well in the primary and caucuses but when it came to the November election, Wiltse said people’s hatred of Hilary Clinton outweighed their feelings toward Trump.

“That is an important shift in recent years, is that the vitriol and the ill feelings that we have our opposition is just becoming so intense, that the probability of people voting and splitting their tickets voting for the other party in one election or another. It’s very, very low now. So, I don’t see that waning at all,” Wiltse said.

In his experience polling voters, Wiltse said that animosity and anger toward political opponents is evident in South Dakota voters.

“So, that’s why you see all this effort to tie Jamie Smith to Joe Biden, that they are identical, they are both radical, you know, whatever it happens to be. And you see that in state after state, election after election, we really have had a nationalization of a lot of local races and state level races to a degree that we just didn’t have 30-40 years ago,” Wiltse said.

Wiltse and SDSU will begin their most recent poll on the November election soon with results expected by the middle of October. In addition to the state candidates, the poll will cover abortion, national figures, Medicaid expansion, and recreational marijuana.