The the three way South Dakota Senate race might be very competitive according to a new Survey USA on behalf of the American News, KSFY TV of Sioux Falls and KOTA TV of Rapid City.
It found Republican Mike Round leading with just 35 percent of the vote but Independent Larry Pressler right behind him with 32 percent of the vote. Democrat Rick Weiland stands at 28 percent. This represents a significant increase in support for Pressler from a month ago when he was only at 25 percent and Round led with 39 percent.
The poll also found that if Weiland dropped out Pressler would easily crush Round 54 percent to 39 percent. On the other hand if Pressler dropped out Weiland would be tied with Round.
Given the nature of this race there is the real possibility things will change dramatically before November. As we get closer to the election if more polls show Pressler with the best chance of beating Round, some strategic voters might switch their support from Weiland to him. This would improve Pressler’s standing in future polls and could start creating a self feeding cycle.
Normally this strategic voting problem keeps independents and third party candidates from every gaining traction, but on the rare occasion a candidate can break through it scrambles the race. For example in the Kansas Senate race Independent Greg Orman started polling well enough to convince the Democrat to drop out.
This weird dynamic in the South Dakota race is also a great reminder that politics aren’t terrible by accident but terrible by design. Democrats and Republicans both fight to keep using the first-past-the-post election system because that favors only two parties. It mostly keeps third parties and independents down because the rules assure voters are afraid that if they vote for their first choice it could allow their least favorite candidate to win.
This means Democrats and Republicans don’t need to be good to win, they just need to be marginally less unpopular than the other party. It doesn’t need to be this way. Other democracies use other election systems that don’t have this problem.