Will newspaper endorsements affect election?

Published 7:34 pm Saturday, October 1, 2016

Do newspaper editorials still matter? There was a time when editorial pages had the power to sway public opinion, bring down the powerful and uplift the despondent.

While editorial pages of once powerful, large newspapers like The New York Times or Washington Post don’t have the authority they once did, they still are important. But does the public, in general, pay much attention to them anymore? This election season will give us a clear answer.

Many newspapers large and small have denounced Donald Trump as unfit to be president. While some conservative newspapers haven’t gone so far as to endorse Hillary Clinton, it’s clear they don’t want Trump in the White House.

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But will those positions influence voters?

The conservative Arizona Republic newspaper has endorsed Clinton and in doing so is supporting a Democrat over a Republican for the first time in its 126-year history. Below is from an editorial it published recently.

“The 2016 Republican candidate is not conservative and he is not qualified.

That’s why, for the first time in our history, The Arizona Republic will support a Democrat for president.

“The challenges the United States faces domestically and internationally demand a steady hand, a cool head and the ability to think carefully before acting.

“Hillary Clinton understands this. Donald Trump does not. Clinton has the temperament and experience to be president. Donald Trump does not.”

The Arizona newspaper is not alone. The Cincinnati Enquirer, which hadn’t endorsed a Democrat in almost a century, is backing Clinton. The conservative Dallas Morning News is as well.

Most of them have also seen subscriptions drop because of those endorsements.

“We write our editorials based on principle, and sometimes principle comes at a cost,” the Morning News’s editor said.

“Although research shows that most voters say a newspaper editorial had no influence on their vote, two recent studies suggest that there’s one exception to that rule: when the endorsements are unexpected,” The Washington Post wrote.

“Endorsements which are consistent with respect to the newspaper’s discourse, and which come as a surprise compared to the newspaper’s endorsement history, have a large and potentially decisive effect in tied contests,” the Northwestern University economist Agustin Casas discovered, according to coverage in the magazine Pacific Standard. That research echoed earlier findings from the National Bureau of Economic Research, the Post reported.

We will know in November whether that’s true or not. If Trump manages to pull out a victory, it will be clear that the nation, in general, no longer cares what its newspapers have to say on the opinion page. If he does not, it will vindicate those conservative publications who were willing to buck tradition to endorse Clinton.

Luke Horton is publisher of The Daily Leader. Email him at luke.horton@dailyleader.com.