So Why Do Newspapers Endorse Candidates Anyway?

Elvert Barnes
Arizona has been in the news recently because the state’s largest newspaper, The Arizona Republic, endorsed Hillary Clinton, the first time the paper has ever endorsed a Democratic candidate. Other papers like The Cincinnati Enquirer and Dallas Morning News, which typically endorse Republicans, have also gone against tradition and endorsed Clinton.

But the bigger news for me was “Why do newspapers endorse candidates in the first place and do these endorsements even matter”?

Endorsements are typically done on the editorial pages by the editor or editorial board, and its been going on for over 100 years. The first endorsement was in 1860 in the New York Times, when they endorsed a “Mr. Lincoln, of Illinois, familiarly known as ‘Old Abe,’ age 51, height six feet seven, by profession Rail-Splitter.” Since then, endorsements have typically been for Republican candidates, but in the last thirty years, Democrats have also been endorsed, as have some Independent candidates as well.

Large newspapers like USA Today and The Wall Street Journal traditionally don’t endorse candidates, but in this tight election year where every vote counts, USA Today has endorse Clinton. And one WSJ columnist who is also on the editorial board, Dorothy Rabinowitz, endorsed Clinton on her own. The paper has traditionally not endorsed candidates, stating that a financial paper should remain independent.

Some editors say they endorse to “make a statement of the paper’s identity” and reflect the community, but that has backfired on many papers; they can’t and should not attempt to speak for everyone, and have drawn criticism from both staff and readers, prompting many newspapers to bow out of endorsements altogether.

Editors expect that readers will understand that editorial boards and newsrooms are separate, but that hasn’t worked either. Endorsements have the opposite effect sometimes, leading readers to believe that the news is also biased.

And do people even pay attention to newspaper endorsements

In a 2008 Pew Research Center survey, nearly 70% of Americans said they were not swayed by their local newspaper’s endorsement. It seems that when a newspaper goes against tradition, people pay more attention. The Cincinnati Enquirer may make a difference in 2016 since it is in a swing state.

A while back, Howell Raines, a New York Times editor said: ”A candidate endorsement is not an attempt to dictate to the reader what he ought to do. It’s more a reflection of our feeling that we have an obligation to be part of the civic dialogue. We have a specific obligation to our readers to let them know what our collective wisdom is.”

My last question is: “Can you vote without knowing the collective wisdom of your newspaper’s editorial board?” I know I can.