The lopsided tally of newspaper endorsements for the Democratic candidate in this year’s presidential election is a stark contrast from the record of previous election years, editorial editors around the country said.
As of Friday, 240 daily newspapers around the country have endorsed Sen. Barack Obama for the presidency and 114 have endorsed the Republican candidate, Sen. John McCain — a clear departure from 2004, when 208 newspapers endorsed the Democratic candidate, Sen. John Kerry ’66, and 189 newspapers endorsed the incumbent Republican candidate, President George W. Bush ’68. The endorsements have been tracked by the trade publication Editor & Publisher.
The News endorsed Obama today, and on college campuses, the preference for Obama has been virtually unanimous. As of Sunday, 69 college papers have endorsed Obama, compared to only one — the University of Mississippi’s Daily Mississipian — that has argued for McCain, according to the college news service UWIRE.
The endorsement count among daily newspapers may be a harbinger of Tuesday’s election, said Greg Mitchell, the editor of Editor & Publisher. But op-ed editors around the country are divided as to whether the recommendations of their editorial boards actually make a difference when it comes to the votes of their readers.
“It’s been quite a remarkable year for endorsements,” Mitchell said by phone. “In 2004, endorsements for Bush and Kerry were really split down the middle. This year, something’s going on.”
Both Mitchell and Los Angeles Times editorial pages editor Jim Newton — whose newspaper endorsed a presidential candidate for the first time in 36 years — said they felt presidential endorsements may not cause drastic changes but may often seep into the national psyche of voters. The Los Angeles Times stopped printing endorsements after criticisms of political favoritism to the Nixon administration in 1972 but started again this year because editorial board members felt the concerns of political partisanship were no longer relevant to their paper, Newton said.
Mitchell cited an experiment he performed before the 2004 elections, when he chose the presidential winner based solely on the tally of newspaper endorsements in 15 swing states. In 14 of the 15 states, he said, the winner of the state matched the winner of the endorsement tallies in that state. Mitchell admitted that this endorsement test does not prove there is a causal relationship between endorsements and votes, but “it suggests that newspaper endorsements do mean something,” he said.
In a telephone interview, Newton acknowledged that the Los Angeles Times’ endorsements make more of a difference when it comes to municipal or state elections, for which readers may not necessarily be well-informed about the candidates or the issues. But if a newspaper makes a strong case for a presidential candidate, that endorsement still contains significance, he said.
“That says something about the candidate’s appeal,” Newton said. “It causes people to pay attention.”
Tamba Tribune editorials editor Rosemary Goudreau agreed, saying readers value endorsements to challenge their own opinions. The newspaper endorsed McCain this year after declining to endorse in 2004, when, she said, the newspaper did not think any of the candidates met the paper’s conservative standards.
“Endorsements are most important down-ticket,” she said by phone. “Our endorsement has a much larger impact for our Soil and Water Conservation District where few people know the candidates compared to, say, the presidential election, where people have been exposed to candidates for two years.”
Carolyn Lumsden, the editorial page editor of the Hartford Courant, endorsed Obama last month, only the second Democrat the newspaper supported in its 244-year history. She said endorsements’ real purpose is not to change the way people think.
“I’d like to think readers carefully weigh what we say, of course,” she wrote in an e-mail. “We’ve never measured the impact because we don’t try to influence elections, just give our best advice.”
Gaddis Smith ’54 GRD ’61, an emeritus history professor and former News chairman, questioned the efficacy of modern endorsements. “[They’re] interesting for the talking heads,” he said, “ but not many other people.”