Binders full of newspaper endorsements


In the age of political Internet memes, which both entertain and influence voters, how important is a newspaper endorsement?

The answer depends on who you ask. To voters, a newspaper endorsement may have little bearing on their vote, as NPR’s media correspondent David Folkenflick reported.

In interviews, a dozen voters suggested they put little to no stock in the editorials, even when they read the papers, and even when they fervently agree with those endorsements.

"Honestly, it doesn't influence me at all. There's definitely an underlying mistrust in the media from my perspective," said restaurant manager Mark Piscionari, a Romney supporter who said he preferred "doing my own research and doing my own homework."

 But in swing areas of swing states, endorsements can still help push undecided voters off the fence, which might be why presidential candidates lobby so hard for the support of newspapers in those places.

“I want your endorsement. You’ll feel better when you give it,” President Obama told the editor and publisher of the Des Moines Register, Iowa’s largest newspaper, in what he thought was an off-the-record conversation.

As of Oct. 25, Obama had gained the endorsement of 16 of the top 100 newspapers, whereas Romney had 14, according to The American Presidency Project. In addition, Obama had the support of larger newspapers than Romney. As noted by The Washington Post's blogger Aaron Blake on Oct. 22, “if you add up the Sunday circulation of all the papers, those supporting Obama reach 3 million people, while those backing Romney reach 2.1 million.”

In the West, as in the rest of the nation, most newspapers that endorsed Obama in 2008 did so again this year. But a few papers switched their support to the Republican Party this year, notably The Reno Gazette Journal and The Casper Star-Tribune.

Back in 2008, the Trib’s editoral board noted it was a “foregone conclusion that Wyoming’s three electoral votes will go to Sen. John McCain,” but threw its support to Obama, noting how he had earned the endorsement of former Democratic Gov. Dave Freudenthal. “This isn’t an ordinary election, and Sen. Barack Obama has the potential to be an extraordinary leader at a time we desperately need one.”

But this year, the Wyoming paper changed its tune, calling Obama’s term “quite possibly the most disappointing presidency in the history of the United States,” and blaming the president for increased partisanship and continued economic malaise. Romney, the editorial board argues, reached across the aisle as governor of Massachusetts, and would be a stronger supporter of energy development in Wyoming.

In 2008, the Reno Gazette Journal called Obama a gamble worth taking, saying the country needs “a leader to inspire us to greatness again. “Is Obama that leader? There are no guarantees in politics. But from everything that he has demonstrated during this long campaign, and everything McCain has failed to demonstrate, Obama appears to be the right candidate for these times.”

This year, in what the paper’s editorial board says “wasn’t an easy decision,” the Gazette Journal shifted its support to Romney, citing Nevada’s continued economic troubles and criticizing Obama’s early focus on health care reform when he should have been paying attention to the economy. But the paper offered only reluctant support for Romney, who they said “has shown a troubling willingness to shift his position on key issues.”

While newspaper endorsements may not be as effective at swaying voters as, say, Tumblrs and animated gifs about Big Bird, binders, biceps or bayonets, they do one thing well: tap into local opinion on a candidate. Or at least fill up space on the editorial page.

Emily Guerin was very distracted while writing this blog. She is an intern at High Country News.

Photo courtesy Flickr user maddogg41283.

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