Skip to main content

Former USD Political Science Professor Alan Clem Dies

Image Tom Brokaw and Alan Clem NBC newsman Tom Brokaw interviews USD political science professor Alan Clem, who died Monday. Brokaw was a student of Clem's while at USD. (Courtesy: University of South Dakota Archives and Special Collections)

VERMILLION, S.D. -- Alan Clem, a longtime political science professor and researcher at the University of South Dakota, died Monday of a heart attack at age 87 in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

As a researcher, he provided valuable analysis to the media about campaigns and elections. In the classroom, his students included NBC newsman Tom Brokaw and former U.S. Sen. Larry Pressler.

“Dr. Alan Clem was my most wonderful and probably most influential professor. He had a great impact on my life,” Pressler, a 1964 political science graduate of USD, said in a statement. “He was one of the greatest men in the University of South Dakota's history.”

Clem’s interest in political science grew after serving in Washington as press secretary for two Nebraska congressmen in the 1950s, said one of his sons, Andrew Clem, who followed in his father’s footsteps and teaches political science at Sweet Briar College in Sweet Briar, Virginia. Alan Clem joined the USD faculty in 1960 and served as department chair from 1976 to 1978. He became professor emeritus in 1996 and taught part-time until 2006. His special courses concerned political parties and election campaigns, Congress, political geography and research methods.

He was drawn to USD largely because of the quality of the program built by William O. Farber, said another son, Chris Clem, of Sioux Falls, who is retired from Wells Fargo. “USD was the great beneficiary of having both of them here at the same time for a number of years,” he said. “My dad would be the straight man to Farber, who was the entertainer.”

In the 1960s, Clem started researching South Dakota polling information, so on election night he could better predict outcomes because he knew which areas tilted Republican or Democratic. “So instead of taking a percentage on a statewide basis, he would get much more accurate results,” Andrew Clem said. “He was the pioneer of election results analysis,” added Chris Clem.

Donald Dahlin, emeritus professor of political science at USD, said he learned much from Alan Clem and will miss him greatly: "Alan was just a terrific person. He did not have a mean bone in his body. What he did have was a kind manner and a wonderful sense of humor. As a professor, he was a wonderful teacher. He knew his subject matter and knew, as well, how to make it interesting to students. His research record was stellar, and, as director of the Governmental Research Bureau for many years, he was a wonderful mentor to so many students, enabling them to make important contributions to many of the research projects the Bureau undertook."

Alan Clem, who was born March 4, 1929, in Lincoln, Nebraska, graduated from St. John’s Military School in Salina, Kansas, in 1946, and from the University of Nebraska in 1950, where he served as editor of the Daily Nebraskan and was a member of Alpha Tau Omega fraternity. He received a master’s degree in European history in 1957 and doctorate in political science in 1960, both from the American University in Washington. He authored several books, including “Prairie State Politics” (1967), “American Electoral Politics” (1981), “The Government We Deserve” (fifth edition, 1995), and “Government by the People?” (2002).

Condolences and funeral arrangements are online at

“A good man. A good father. And third or fourth, a good professor,” Chris Clem said.


USD's College of Arts & Sciences offers students a top-notch undergraduate liberal arts education in the humanities, social sciences and sciences as well as graduate programs that have earned USD distinction as a research university by the Carnegie Foundation. The college's more than 22,000 alumni include famous journalists, Hollywood screenwriters, novelists, a Nobel Prize winner, South Dakota governors, attorneys, physicians, justices of the state Supreme Court, distinguished university faculty and international humanitarians.


Founded in 1862 and the first university in the Dakotas, the University of South Dakota is the only public liberal arts university in the state, with 202 undergraduate and 84 graduate programs in the College of Arts & Sciences, School of Education, Knudson School of Law, Sanford School of Medicine, School of Health Sciences, Beacom School of Business and College of Fine Arts. With an enrollment of nearly 10,000 students and more than 400 faculty, USD has a 16:1 student/faculty ratio, and it ranks among the best in academics and affordability. USD’s 18 athletic programs compete at the NCAA Division I level.


Hanna DeLange
USD News