Election 2022 Governor South Dakota

South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem takes the stage at a campaign rally Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2022 in Sioux Falls, S.D.

(The Center Square) - Just a little over half of South Dakota's voters turned out to cast their ballot to reelect Republican Gov. Kristi Noem for a second term but one expert believes that voter turnout had little to do with her win. 

Noem's victory over Democrat Jamie Smith and Libertarian Tracey Quint on Tuesday night most likely stems from undecided voters turning back to party alliances in the final moments of the election, according to David Wiltse, an associate professor of political science at South Dakota State University. Noem won 62% of the vote to Smith's 35%. Quint won 3% of the votes counted. 

An estimated 59.4% of South Dakotans voted in this year's midterm election, with 354,652 casting ballots out of the 597,073 registered voters, according to the South Dakota Secretary of State's Office. 

The turnout was lower than in previous years, even though the number of registered voters in the state has increased. In the 2018 midterm election, 65.39% of the state's 341,048 voters made it to the polls.

Wiltse said he has not seen any data that would suggest the results of this year's gubernatorial race "were determined or affected deeply by turnout." He also serves as director of the SDSU poll, which is a research unit of the political science program at the School of American and Global studies at SDSU. During elections, the research group studies and provides projections for upcoming races that affect the state.

The SDSU poll released in September showed a close race between Noem and Smith, but an estimated 14% of voters were undecided at the time of their poll.

Wiltse said these undecided votes, along with voting changes, most likely changed the election results in the final count.

"I suspect that the movement we saw from polls in September to Election Day were largely the result of where our undecided and "defecting" respondents ultimately voted," Wiltse told The Center Square. "In the gubernatorial race, 13% of Republican respondents said they were undecided and 7% said they'd vote for Smith. There is a very common pattern in public opinion for voters to report misgivings about their party's candidate in early polling."

Wiltse said voting decision changes can be common for some voters as election day moves near as a result of the phenomenon called "negative partisanship."

"As the election fast approaches, and the public is inundated with messaging, their normal partisan leanings are reactivated, and they begin to 'come home' to their party's nominee," Wiltse added. "Any misgivings they might have had of their nominee would be washed away by stronger feelings of animosity they have towards the opposing candidate."

While the SDSU poll had predicted Noem to win, Wiltse said the margin was a bit larger than he expected.

"I was a bit surprised by the erosion of support for Smith," Wiltse added. "but we always knew, and explicitly stated, that the end result would not be what we saw in that poll."