Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Clinton's the Choice

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Clinton's the Choice

Article excerpt

E&P's Quadrennial Presidential Poll shows, for the first time since 1964, that more newspapers endorsed the Democratic candidate

FOR THE FIRST time since Lyndon Johnson swamped Barry Goldwater in 1964, more newspapers are supporting a Democrat for president than a Republican, according to E&P's quadrennial poll.

Democratic Gov. Bill Clinton of Arkansas garnered editorial stamps of approval from 149 papers, compared with 121 papers for incumbent Republican George Bush.

Of the papers responding, 18.3%, representing 11 million circulation, endorsed Clinton, versus 14.9%, representing 7.1 million circulation, for Bush.

Standing alone, the 9,000-circulation McCook (Neb.) Daily Gazette said it intends to endorse independent Ross Perot.

The last significant independent, John Anderson in 1980, earned endorsements from 40 newspapers.

The poll included 813 papers responding with postcards or to phone inquiries. That is more than half of the nation's 1,586 dailies, according to the Editor & Publisher International Year-Book 1992.

Since 1940, newspapers have endorsed Republicans by overwhelming margins--except when Johnson edged Goldwater, 440 endorsements to 359.

The poll also found a larger proportion of newspapers than ever before-66.7%--have not endorsed a candidate, either because of non-endorsement policies or because they had not done so when the poll was completed. In 1988, 62.8% of papers had not endorsed.

The latest findings confirm a trend dating from the poll's beginning in 1940, when just 13.4% of papers were uncommitted.

Major papers supporting Clinton thus far include: the St. Louis Post Dispatch; Boston Globe; Courier-Journal in Louisville, Ky.; McClatchy Newspapers' Sacramento Bee, Modesto Bee and Fresno Bee in California; Chicago Sun Times; Washington Post; Charlotte (N.C.) Observer; El Paso Times and Newsday on Long Island and New York City.

Papers for Bush included the Chicago Tribune, Detroit News, Dallas Morning News, San Antonio Express Mail and 13 Scripps Howard newspapers, including the Rocky Mountain News and strikecrippled Pittsburgh Press, which endorsed via its facsimile newspaper.

The dramatic swing from Republican to Democratic looks like a pocketbook issue for newspapers, said Joan Konner, dean of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, since the newspaper industry has been pummelled by one of the worst recessions in decades.

(In the last presidential election, Democratic candidate Michael Dukakis received endorsements from only 51 newspapers or 7.7% of the total, while Bush was endorsed by 195 newspapers or 29.5% of the total.)

"The main concern of the election is the economy, and certainly the newspaper industry has been facing its own troubled economy," she said, suggesting that changing regulations in Washington have created new competitive threats from telephone companies.

"Perhaps that adds up to a change in the publishers' outlook," she said.

American Universty School of Communication Dean Sanford Ungar said the swing reflected wide dissatisaction.

Of newspapers making endorsements, reasons varied. Some came only reluctantly. Many were withheld.

"The choice for president this time around is easy," the Washington Post editorialized Oct. 11. "The country is drifting and worn down; it badly needs to be reenergized and given new direction. Bill Clinton is the only candidate with a chance of doing that."

The Post said Bush had "long since squandered whatever claim he had to national leadership," adding, "The presidency is in part a test, and Mr. Bush has failed."

The Detroit News said it was less than satisfied with Bush's performance but Clinton would be worse.

"Four more years of George Bush may not be pretty," the News editorialized, but four years of Clinton "could be even less appetizing. …

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