Tuesday, December 18, 2012

How Effective and Important Are Omaha World-Herald Endorsements?? -- Patrick McPherson

Now that the results of the 2012 election have finally been declared official it might be time to take a look at how the Omaha World-Herald candidate and issue endorsements fared.   

There is no question that local, state and national candidates in Nebraska and Iowa want the paper’s endorsement. Most end up spending an hour or so in the offices of the paper trying to tell the editor(s) who they are, what they have done in their life and what they intend to do if elected in an effort to gain credibility and the paper’s endorsement. In some cases, even a non-endorsement isn’t too bad if the paper doesn’t mention the unendorsed candidate’s name as sometimes the readers don’t realize who didn’t get the endorsement and vote for that person anyway 

All of the above assumes the paper’s endorsement means anything to the voter to begin with.

So how did the Omaha World-Herald endorsements fair in 2012?

The paper endorsed 59 candidates and took positions on 6 ballot issues.

Of the 59 candidates it endorsed, 38 won (64.4%) and 21 lost (35.6%).

Of those endorsed in races where an incumbent was running, 29 were incumbents and 8 were not. The remaining 22 endorsements were for open seats.

Of the 29 incumbents endorsed, 23 (79,3%) won and 6 (20.7%) lost.

In the 22 open seats the paper’s endorsed candidate won 13 times (59.1%) and the lost 9 times (40.9%).

Of the 59 candidates endorsed, 38 (64.4%) were Republicans, 19 (32.2%) were Democrats and 2 (3.4%) were independents.

Just looking at statewide races (President, U.S. Senate, U.S. Congress, Board of Regents, Legislature & State Board of Education) the Omaha World-Herald endorsee won in 25 of those 34 races ((73.6%) and lost in 9 (26.4%) of the time. In the 15 open statewide races the endorsee won 11 (73.3%) of the time and lost 4 times (26.7%).

On ballot issues the paper opined in six, four state issues and two local issues (Papillion LaVista School Board and the Douglas County office merger). It’s opinion prevailed in 4 of those six, losing its recommendations for term-limit extensions and pay raises for state senators.

One of the common gripes by Republicans and Democrats is that the editorial page is biased. With endorsements of Deb Fischer over what some would believe to be the paper’s owner’s (Warren Buffett) fair haired boy, that doesn’t seem to be a justified conclusion for Republicans. And for Democrats, the endorsement of John Ewing over Lee Terry somewhat dispels the idea of Republican bias although the majority of endorsements go to Republicans. That result probably should be expected in a state where Republican registration represent 47.5% of registered voters compared to that of Democrats (32.1%) and independents (19.6%).

So, is the editorial page biased for Democrats? Apparently, not. 64.4% of those endorsed were Republicans and that appears to be diluted somewhat by local races in the more populous urban Omaha/Douglas County area where the percentage of Democrats is greater. When looking at the 34 statewide races referred to above the paper endorsed 25 (73.6%) Republicans and 9 (26.4%) Democrats. Again, given the large Republican registration outside of Douglas and Lancaster counties this shouldn’t be a surprise.

So what does this mean??? It’s always good to get an endorsement. It’s nice to claim an endorsement by the state’s major paper. If one is an incumbent and doesn’t get an endorsement it probably means the candidate is in trouble. Of course, incumbents usually get re-elected unless they’ve been bad so that obviously improves the paper’s results in that category.

In summary, it seems that the paper’s endorsements are usually good picks. It doesn’t appear there is any significant bias when the state‘s political demographics are considered. Whether voters actually take stock of the endorsements or simply vote for incumbents whose names they are familiar with may be a topic for another discussion.

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