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Experts Question Impact of Newspaper Endorsements

BY Admin  October 26, 2004 at 1:10 PM EDT

Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., leads President Bush in terms of endorsements, but in an age when many people get their news from the Internet and cable news channels, experts question the influence of newspaper endorsements on voters.

As of Monday, 128 newspapers’ editorial pages had endorsed Senator Kerry, while 105 newspapers supported President Bush for a second term, according to Editor & Publisher magazine. The papers backing Senator Kerry account for 16.9 million readers compared to 10.9 million readers of papers for the president.

More significantly, Senator Kerry picked up a total of 35 papers that had backed Mr. Bush in 2000, including Michigan’s Flint Journal, Washington’s Seattle Times, New Mexico’s Albuquerque Tribune and the Morning Call of Allentown, Pa. Meanwhile, President Bush picked up four papers that had supported then Vice President Al Gore four years ago, including Colorado’s Denver Post, Michigan’s Macomb Daily, Pennsylvania’s York Daily Record and the Herald-Journal of Spartanburg, S.C., E&P reported Oct. 25.

Some media experts, however, said newspaper endorsements are less likely to sway large numbers of voters, who get information from a variety of sources.

“Editorial endorsements are dinosaurs. The vast majority of the public don’t read editorials,” Larry Sabato, political science professor and head of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics told UPI, a wire news service.

“The handful of people who read editorials already know for whom they are going to vote. They are either reading it for reinforcement or they are reading it because it’s part of a newspaper.

While they were useful in the 18th century, today “there are thousands of options for interested news consumers, voters, and this really is horse and buggy. People make up their own minds. People who are going to vote in this election know what the stakes are,” Sabato said.

As media critic Howard Kurtz of the Washington Post noted in an online discussion Oct. 25: “Even editorial page editors will tell you that they don’t believe their endorsements move many votes.”

In fact, several large national papers — including USA Today, the Wall Street Journal and Los Angeles Times — do not traditionally endorse presidential candidates and will likely abstain from issuing formal endorsements this year.

Of the nation’s larger newspapers that did issue endorsements, Senator Kerry captured two: the New York Times and the Washington Post, with circulations of more than 1 million and almost 773,000 respectively. The larger papers to endorse President Bush this year include the Arizona Republic in Phoenix, San Diego Union-Tribune, Houston Chronicle, Dallas Morning News and Chicago Tribune, a paper with a circulation of nearly 579,000.

“There is much the current president could have done differently over the last four years. … But for his resoluteness on the defining challenge of our age — a resoluteness John Kerry has not been able to demonstrate — the Chicago Tribune urges the reelection of George W. Bush as president of the United States,” the paper’s editorial board wrote Oct. 17.

More interesting, said Kurtz, were endorsements from newspapers located in battleground states, such as Florida and Pennsylvania. In states where the race is particularly close, campaigns hope these endorsements could have some bearing on voter decisions.

When Florida’s Orlando Sentinel on Oct. 24 published its endorsement of Senator Kerry, the campaign quickly issued a press release trumpeting the news, highlighting that the paper had not backed a Democratic presidential candidate in nearly 40 years.

The Sentinel wrote in its editorial: “This president has utterly failed to fulfill our expectations. We turn now to his Democratic challenger, Sen. John Kerry, with the belief that he is more likely to meet the hopes we once held for Mr. Bush.”

Meanwhile, President Bush received endorsements from several larger newspapers in the battleground state of Ohio, including the Columbus Dispatch and the Cincinnati Enquirer, which praised the president’s leadership in the war on terrorism.

Kathleen Hall Jamieson, dean of the Annenberg School for Communications at the University of Pennsylvania, noted that endorsements are less important to readers than they are for the campaigns, which often use them as proof of their superiority over their rival.

“The effect of the editorials doesn’t come out of people reading them, they come out of the ads by the candidates saying ‘I’ve been endorsed,'” Jamieson recently told UPI.