Newspaper Endorsements Still Carry Weight

Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), November 2, 2008 | Go to article overview

Newspaper Endorsements Still Carry Weight


Do newspaper endorsements influence voters? I refer to the candidate picks printed on the biodegradable news products that digital and cable commentators dismiss as "old media" but talk about nothing but.

They do, according to Brown University economist Brian Knight, though some endorsements pack greater clout. Readers are more swayed when a paper perceived to have a liberal bias backs a Republican, and conversely, when one seen as conservative chooses a Democrat.

This makes sense. Last week, for example, the regulars on MSNBCs "Morning Joe" cackled over The New York Times very unshocking endorsement of Barack Obama. But there was reverential awe at the Chicago Tribunes decision to back Obama. This is the first endorsement of a Democratic presidential candidate in that newspapers 161-year history.

"In 2008, they are extreme examples of a surprising and unsurprising endorsement," Knight told me.

In a paper for the National Bureau of Economic Research, Knight and former graduate student Chun Fang Chiang derived an econometric model to track the relationship between media bias and influence on voting. They zeroed in on newspaper endorsements and the 2000 election.

The big-paper backing with the greatest impact came from The Denver Post and Chicago Sun-Times. The Denver Post had only a 35 percent probability of endorsing Democrat Al Gore but backed him nonetheless. The Chicago Sun-Times had a 58 percent probability of supporting Gore but went for Bush, instead.

You may wonder, as I did, how economists determined "probability" in a newspapers choice. The number was reached by crunching information on newspaper ownership and reader support for a candidate. An alternative measure based on the newspapers history of political endorsements produced similar results, according to Knight. …

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