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Dweeb alert II - More political recommendations under a microscope

One question candidates sometimes ask is whether they really want a recommendation from the Herald’s editorial board.

After all, quite a few candidates we recommend end up losing.

True enough, but there’s a case to be made that most of them would have taken an even bigger thumping without our support.

In other words, our recommendation helped, but just not enough.

This year, we made recommendations in 25 races — federal, state and local — that appeared on Benton County ballots.

If you count Benton County tallies that went our way as victories, and the vote totals that went against our recommedations as losses, then we barely had a winning season.

Once the dust settled, Benton County voters agreed with us 13 times and went the other way in 12 races. That’s just looking at the Benton County vote, not necessarily who won the race.

In Franklin County we did a little better. We made recommendations in 21 races that appeared on Franklin County ballots. Voters there went our way 13 times and against us in eight races.

Has the editorial board become irrelevant in the election process? A closer look at the numbers suggests we're more in synch with readers than the win-loss column might indicate.

In Benton County, we made recommendations in 16 partisan races — from president to county commissioner.

In three of the races, the choice was between two Republicans, thanks to our new top two primary system. Thirteen races featured a Republican against a Democrat.

In those divided contests, we recommended seven Republicans and six Democrats.

Benton County voters favored the Republican in every race, but when the Herald recommended the Democrat, the margin of victory tended to shrink.

Democrats we recommended averaged 44.4 percent of the vote in Benton County. A losing percentage, of course. But Democrats we didn’t support received an average of 30.9 percent. That’s a difference of more than a 13 percentage points.

In Franklin County, we made recommendations in 15 races that pitted a Democrat against a Republican. In 10 of the races we recommended the GOP candidate, and the Democrat in five.

Democrats we recommended received an average 45.3 percent of the vote in Franklin County, but when we recommended the Republican the Democrat averaged 31 percent of the vote.

In other words, if you ran as a Democrat in Benton or Franklin counties, you got few votes than your opponent — unless you’re Bill Grant. He lead in Franklin County but like every other Democrat in Benton County.

If you’re a Democrat and got the Herald’s recommendation, you came an average of 14 percentage points closer to your opponent than other Democrats running in the two counties.

Is the Herald’s recommendation worth 14 percentage points in Franklin and Benton counties? I’d like to believe it, but I know enough about the hazards of assuming cause and effect to shy away from that conclusion.

The numbers do make a convincing argument that we’re more in tune with voters than simply looking at the win and loss column might indicate. At least with independent voters who don’t vote a straight party ticket.

And the numbers also argue, perhaps less convincingly, that some voters find us useful in trying to determine how to cast their votes.

It’s worth pointing out that the goal of the editorial board isn’t to be election handicappers.

If we wanted a great track record on recommending support for the eventual top vote getters in the Mid-Columbia, no problem — recommend for Republicans and against any tax measure.

Using that simple strategy, our record for 2008 would have put us on the winning side in Benton County 22 times and in the losers column in only three nonpartisan decisions.

The concept doesn’t work quite as well in Franklin County, but it’s still valid. Our record would have been 16 recommendations for the eventual winners (among Franklin County voters at least) and five nods for losers (four of them nonpartisan or between two Republicans) if we stuck with a straight Republican ticket.

But trying to guess the winners isn’t the point.

When we do our job right, we’re part of a thoughtful discussion with readers about what’s best for the community, state and nation.

We’re careful and deliberate in deciding who to recommend, and we hope enough readers find it useful to make the effort worthwile.

If we’re lucky, even those readers who’ve already determined that they’ll toe the party line, Democrat or Republican, will get something from our political recommendations.

Maybe it’s just the nice warm feeling of rage at what those idiots at the Herald are up to, or a good laugh or a surprised admission that we got it right for once.

Readers who’ve made up their minds to vote a partisan slate won’t be affected by an editorial board’s recommendations, regardless of how persuasive we might be.

We could claim more influence if we stuck with a straight Republican ticket, but it would be a false claim and a boring course to take.

Even more importantly — sometimes the best candidate isn’t a Republican.