Yes, Newspaper Endorsements Matter -- Here Is 'Proof'

By Mitchell, Gret | Editor & Publisher, October 17, 2008 | Go to article overview

Yes, Newspaper Endorsements Matter -- Here Is 'Proof'


Mitchell, Gret, Editor & Publisher


After a few weeks of cogitation, a number of leading newspapers have offered endorsements in the race for the White House this week. Just in the past day a bunch of heavyweights have weighed in -- all for Obama. In fact, our tally of all the endorsements now stands at 51-16 for Obama, which could be significant (Bush and Kerry pretty much split in 2004).

But does it matter? Stated or unstated, the common belief is that newspaper picks for president are meaningless; they influence no one, especially in an era when media approval ratings in polls rival the paltry numbers for lawyers.

But actually, I beg to differ with those who say endorsements have zero impact beyond local elections. Consider my amazingly accurate 11th hour predictions in 2004-- based solely on newspaper editorials.

Editor & Publisher has a decades-long tradition of logging endorsements for president. I don't know how it was done in a timely fashion before the Internet Age -- the mind boggles -- but in 2004, starting in mid-September of that year, we started checking the Web for any and all newspaper endorsements.

We kept a running total of who led in the number of endorsements, as well as the audience size of the supporting papers. The lead swung back and forth several times, and it was fascinating to chart a large number of papers that backed Bush in 2000 that now chose Kerry (the Iraq war was a big factor). Erin Olson, an intern from Medill, did a terrific job in keeping track.

It became a popular daily feature in the final weeks of the campaign. In early November 2004, our final pre-election tally found Kerry edging Bush in endorsements by 211-197, but topping him rather easily in total circ, 20.8 million to 14.6 million. Since Bush won, barely, you might say, so much for newspapers swinging the election!

But hold on for a minute. I knew that endorsements in most states really did mean nothing, since the votes of their readers were barely being contested. …

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