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What's In a Name? Could Scrabble Scores Determine Minnesota's Next Governor?

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Gubernatorial candidates with longer names and names with letters totaling higher Scrabble tile values are nearly twice as likely to win general election races throughout Minnesota history

(This report is the eighth installment in Smart Politics' 'Pathway to the Governor's Mansion' Series. Past reports analyzed the political experience, geographic background, ethnic background, age (part 1), astrological signs, age (part 2), and U.S. Senatorial experience of successful gubernatorial candidates in Minnesota history).

Name recognition is known to play an important role in determining voter candidate preferences, particularly in early polling matchups.

Familiarity with the candidates, for example, is one of the reasons why Mark Dayton (and Norm Coleman) led their respective fields in recent Rasmussen polling of DFL and GOP preferences for likely Minnesota voters (Coleman never even entered the race). It is also part of the reason why candidates such as Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani got off to such fast starts in their respective 2008 presidential campaigns.

But what do the names of Minnesota Governors such as William Merriam, Adolph Eberhart, J.A.A. Burnquist, Theodore Christianson, and Luther Youngdahl have in common?

They not only went 12 and 0 in gubernatorial election contests in the Gopher State, but they also have names that were longer than their general election opponents and, if the board game Scrabble scored proper nouns, they would have also trounced their rivals in that contest as well.

A Smart Politics analysis of Minnesota's 64 gubernatorial races finds that those candidates with more unusual letters (those scoring higher points in Scrabble) and those with longer names win at nearly twice the rate as their closest opponent.

In total, 41 of the governors elected to the Gopher State have first and last names with higher Scrabble scores than their opponents, or a 64.1 percent rate of victory.

Candidates with more common letters comprising their names won only 22 elections, or 34.4 percent of the time. (The 1863 matchup between Stephen Miller and Henry Welles would have resulted in a Scrabble tie, at 20-20).

Governors such as John Johnson (31 points), John Pillsbury (30 points), Alexander Ramsey (28 points), Winfield Hammond (30 points), Adolph Eberhart (25 points), J.A.A. Burnquist (30 points), Theodore Christianson (29 points), and Luther Youngdahl (26 points) collectively notched not only a 19-1 electoral record, but also an 18-2 mark on the Scrabble board against their opponents.

All this is good news for Margaret Anderson Kelliher (35 points), should she receive the DFL nomination and emerge as the general election candidate. A 64 percent chance at victory is a diceroll many Democrats nationwide would gladly take in the current political climate which finds Republicans gaining momentum as the 2010 campaigns gear up.

On the Republican side, the best the GOP can offer up, excepting long-shot Phil Herwig (22 points), is Marty Seifert whose name scores a 20 on the Scrabble board - besting chief rival Tom Emmer by six points.

The Minnesota Governor whose name has the lowest Scrabble score is Arne Carlson. At just 13 points, Carlson was able to defeat Rudy Perpich (24) and John Marty (24).

Defeated 1982 Republican nominee Wheelock Whitney (36 points) has the honor of having the name with the highest Scrabble score of any first or second place gubernatorial candidate.

Of course, Scrabble does not count proper nouns in its rules of play. Moreover, a letter which might be unusual in non-proper nouns (such as "J") is much more common in names (e.g. John Johnson).

That being the case, Smart Politics also examined the length (number of characters) of names and found a similar pattern: gubernatorial candidates with longer names won at nearly twice the rate (36 victories, 56.3 percent) as those with shorter names (20, 31.3 percent).

(In eight instances, 12.5 percent of elections, the two leading candidates had the same number of characters in their names).

So while name recognition has long been established as an important factor in political campaigns, perhaps longer names or names with unusual letters likewise stand apart from the crowd in the mind of the voter.

Minnesota Gubernatorial Elections by Scrabble Score, 1857-2006

Year
Winner
Score
Loser
Score
1857
Henry Sibley
22
Alexander Ramsey
28
1859
Alexander Ramsey
28
George Becker
22
1861
Alexander Ramsey
28
E.O. Hamblin
16
1863
Stephen Miller
20
Henry Welles
20
1865
William Marshall
25
Henry Rice
17
1867
William Marshall
25
Charles Flandrau
24
1869
Horace Austin
17
George Otis
12
1871
Horace Austin
17
Winthrop Young
25
1873
Cushman Davis
23
Ara Barton
11
1875
John Pillsbury
30
David Buell
17
1877
John Pillsbury
30
William Banning
22
1879
John Pillsbury
30
Edmund Rice
16
1881
Lucius Hubbard
23
Richard Johnson
30
1883
Lucius Hubbard
23
Adolph Biermann
24
1886
Andrew McGill
21
Albert Ames
14
1888
William Merriam
23
Eugene Wilson
16
1890
William Merriam
23
Thomas Wilson
20
1892
Knute Nelson
15
Daniel Lawler
16
1894
Knute Nelson
15
Sidney Owen
17
1896
David Clough
22
John Lind
19
1898
John Lind
19
William Eustis
18
1900
Samuel Van Sant
18
John Lind
19
1902
Samuel Van Sant
18
Leonard Rosing
15
1904
John Johnson
31
Robert Dunn
13
1906
John Johnson
31
A.L. Cole
8
1908
John Johnson
31
Jacob F. Jacobson
35
1910
Adolph Eberhart
25
James Gray
22
1912
Adolph Eberhart
25
Peter Ringdahl
20
1914
Winfield Hammond
30
William Lee
15
1916
J.A.A. Burnquist
30
Thomas Dwyer
23
1918
J.A.A. Burnquist
30
David Evans
18
1920
J.A.O. Preus
17
Henrik Shipstead
28
1922
J.A.O. Preus
17
Magnus Johnson
26
1924
Theodore Christianson
29
Floyd Olson
17
1926
Theodore Christianson
29
Magnus Johnson
26
1928
Theodore Christianson
29
Ernest Lundeen
14
1930
Floyd Olson
17
Raymond Chase
23
1932
Floyd Olson
17
Earle Brown
15
1934
Floyd Olson
17
Martin Nelson
14
1936
Elmer Benson
15
Martin Nelson
14
1938
Harold Stassen
17
Elmer Benson
15
1940
Harold Stassen
17
Hjalmer Petersen
29
1942
Harold Stassen
17
Hjalmer Petersen
29
1944
Edward Thye
21
Byron Allen
15
1946
Luther Youngdahl
26
Harold Barker
22
1948
Luther Youngdahl
26
Charles Halsted
23
1950
Luther Youngdahl
26
Harry Peterson
21
1952
C. Elmer Anderson
19
Orville Freeman
22
1954
Orville Freeman
22
C. Elmer Anderson
19
1956
Orville Freeman
22
Ancher Nelsen
17
1958
Orville Freeman
22
George MacKinnon
25
1960
Elmer Andersen
16
Orville Freeman
22
1962
Karl Rolvaag
19
Elmer Andersen
16
1966
Harold LeVander
22
Karl Rolvaag
19
1970
Wendell Anderson
20
Douglas Head
17
1974
Wendell Anderson
20
John Johnson
31
1978
Al Quie
15
Rudy Perpich
24
1982
Rudy Perpich
24
Wheelock Whitney
36
1986
Rudy Perpich
24
Carl Ludeman
16
1990
Arne Carlson
13
Rudy Perpich
24
1994
Arne Carlson
13
John Marty
24
1998
Jesse Ventura
22
Norm Coleman
17
2002
Tim Pawlenty
21
Roger Moe
11
2006
Tim Pawlenty
21
Mike Hatch
23

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