Thursday, October 26, 2006

Do newspaper endorsements matter?

Do newspaper endorsements of political candidates matter? I would like to think that they do but more and more research is showing that endorsements have little (or no) impact on the outcome of elections. Interesting.

Seems like the biggest use of newspaper endorsements these days is for fodder in a candidate's advertisement. You know, Candidate X, endorsed by the Anytown Newspaper, etc.

Yes, newspapers need to take an active role in the community and do what they can to foster community discussion of issues. Endorsement of candidates is one way to do just that. So, in that sense, I suppose endorsements are good but do they matter?

A research article in the American Journalism Review supports the growing belief that endorsements do NOT matter to voters.

Here is a bit of what that article has to say:

Research on the electoral influence of newspaper endorsements is scarcer than a liberal at a Wall Street Journal editorial board meeting. Most of the data was compiled before the burgeoning Internet and the cacophony of cable TV further dulled whatever edge a newspaper endorsement gave one candidate over another. ...

"The direct effect of editorials does not appear to be significant enough to find ... The effect of newspaper endorsements is largely created through advertising about them that is sponsored by the candidate."

... the impact of endorsements on national or even regional elections – contests in which candidates are well-known among voters – is negligible.

What do you think?


Anonymous Joe Marren said...

I don't think a newspaper endorsement is worth as much weight as we attach to it. Oh, sure, the endorsee makes a big deal of it, and local pols try to get it (though not as fervently as in the past; in fact, some seem as if they are meeting with editorial boards as a pro forma thing), but know what? The sun still comes up in the morning for the candidate who doesn't get the endorsement.

OK, I may have ruffled some feathers so the question is can I back up what I say. Well, no, I don't have any stats, just anecdotal evidence and a feeling after 18 years in this business. I may be wrong, but I thought I remember seeing a study recently that said readers don't pay much attention anymore to the editorial page or read editorials. Speaking as a former editorial page editor, I hope I'm wrong, but it sounds true in a highly unsceintific feeling I get from talking to friends, neighbors and students of mine at Buff State. (I'm an adjunct there.)

And my anecdotal evidence is also weak, but let me cite one example: The former mayor of Buffalo, Jimmy Griffin, never cared if he got the endorsement of The Buffalo News. In fact, it for him it could be a badge of honor not to get it. A "we love him for the enemies he's made" sort of thing. If his opponent got the paper's endorsement, Griffin would never mention it, but his opponent would. And yet Griffin won -- four times in a row.

I was editorial page editor in Olean and we'd make endorsements based on interviews the candidates had with the editorial board, the beat reporters' input, divinations from Delphi, etc., and we made our choice based on who we thought would do the better job (as all papers do). But sometimes it just didn't matter what we thought or wrote, especially if a candidate with a strong personality who was stone dumb (someone with charisma, though AP would chastise me for misusung the word) beat a wonk who could release policy statements until Judgment Day. (On a smaller scalle as a kinda, sorta example, think of Dubya vs. the Man Who Invented the Internet -- I'm not naming names because I don't want to get any deeper into trouble.)

Joe Marren
associate editor/Business First of Buffalo

11:05 AM, October 26, 2006  
Anonymous David V. Mitchell said...

From 1981 to 1983, I took a sabbatical from the newspaper I owned to work for the original San
Francisco Examiner, and during those two years, I was assigned a story that taught me much about newspapers’ political endorsements.

Following one election, the city desk assigned me to call several of the larger newspapers in the state, including The Los Angeles Times, and ask their editorial writers whether their endorsements appeared to have had any effect on outcomes.

Almost without exception, the editorial writers said their endorsements did not have a great effect on the major races — say, for the U.S. Senate — in which the voters feel they are somewhat familiar with the candidates.

On the other hand, in races between unfamiliar candidates, voters paid much more attention to newspaper endorsements, the
editorial writers said.

12:06 PM, October 26, 2006  

Post a Comment

Let us know how you have been helped by this article or what you have learned from this story.

<< Home