In an age of skepticism and surging new media, newspaper endorsements may not have much of an effect on an election, but that isn’t stopping papers from publishing them.
As of today, according to the American Presidency Project, Barack Obama is still the favourite of editorial boards, with a 34-28 advantage over Mitt Romney among the best-read papers that have issued endorsements.
The two national papers with the largest circulations – the Wall Street Journal and USA Today – do not generally endorse candidates, and have not done so in this election cycle. The next two largest papers, the New York Times (circulation: 1.6 million) and the Los Angeles Times (circ: 600,000) have both endorsed Mr. Obama, as they did in 2008. The New York Post is the largest circulation daily (555,000) to go with Romney.
Papers endorsing Mr. Obama have a combined circulation of a little over 9 million, while the papers supporting Mr. Romney have a total circulation of just under 5 million.
But in a reflection of the divided electorate, almost a dozen papers have changed sides since the 2008 election, endorsing a candidate from a different party than the one they supported when Mr. Obama walloped John McCain. Another six that endorsed one candidate in 2008 have chosen to abstain this time around.
Only one paper, the San Antonio Express News, has moved from Republican to Democrat, saying it believes Barack Obama, “is in a better position to guide the nation over the next four years – and has earned from voters the privilege to do so.”
Meanwhile, 10 papers have shifted from Democrat to Republican, including the Houston Chronicle, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, the Orlando Sentinel, the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, the Tennessean, and the Des Moines Register. Some moves are not much of a surprise: the Houston Chronicle’s editorial notes that, prior to its endorsement of Mr. Obama in 2008, it had an unbroken “44-year string of endorsing Republican candidates for president.” It adds: “it is a particular vexation that this president’s attitude toward the interests of our state has occasionally bordered on contempt.”
The Tennessean’s endorsement is more cautious: “Gov. Romney: This endorsement was not an easy decision. You owe the American people more details about how you will keep taxes low, preserve social programs, and build up the military, all while reducing the debt.... Be the man who governed Massachusetts, and you’ll reunite America.”
Some believe endorsements do more damage to a newspaper than they are worth. That was the thinking behind last week’s announcement by the Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel that it would not endorse a candidate for the White House this year. “It makes little sense to put our independence at risk during the election season. Though some of our peers across the country will disagree, the Editorial Board has decided that endorsements do put it at risk,” wrote David D. Haynes, the editorial page editor.
“We will continue to share our opinions. We will continue to challenge the powerful. We will continue to say what we think on political issues. We will continue to provide a robust forum for all kinds of ideas. But when it comes to which box you should check on election day, we’ll leave that decision up to you.”