October 27, 2008

Over the weekend, the Anchorage Daily News endorsed Sens. Barack Obama and Joe Biden over Sen. John McCain and Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.

I wonder how much sway endorsements have in this, or most presidential elections. I rely on the newspaper to help me think through more obscure votes for local judges or even Constitutional amendments that don’t get much coverage. But a presidential race gets enough coverage that even a light consumer of news can make up his/her mind for whom to vote.

Earlier this year, The Pew Research Center for People & the Press found that an endorsement by Oprah Winfrey or by “your minister, priest or rabbi” holds more influence than an endorsement by a local newspaper. Sixty-nine percent of those Pew questioned said newspaper endorsements have “no effect” on their vote.

It might make an interesting story to ask people who could influence their vote at this stage. A governor? A religious leader? Any particular celebrity?

Editor & Publisher says Obama leads almost 3-to-1 in newspaper endorsements over McCain. Click here for lists of endorsements for both campaigns. Over the weekend, tons of newspapers announced their endorsements. E&P said:

Two more major papers that had backed Bush in 2004 — the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and The Providence Journal — came out for Obama, joining at least 35 others who had done the same thing already.

In another embarrassment for McCain, The Indianapolis Star, which also supported Bush in 2004, revealed that it would not endorse this year. At least two other Bush 2004 papers, The Ann Arbor (Mich.) News and The (Fredericksburg, Va.) Free Lance-Star, took the same route.

Another paper just now backing Obama: The Times-Picayune of New Orleans, which made no endorsement in 2004. He also earned the nod from the Financial Times and the Star-Ledger of Newark, N.J.

You can click here to see what the endorsements look like when they are turned into a map

McCain picked up some endorsements this weekend. E&P reported:

The Cincinnati Enquirer in yet another key state, Ohio, came out for McCain. It had backed Bush in 2004. McCain also got the nod from the Richmond Times-Dispatch in battleground Virginia, and The Oklahoman in Oklahoma City. McCain’s home state paper in Phoenix, The Arizona Republic, endorsed him, saying that it knew him best. The Eagle-Tribune of Lawrence, Mass., also picked McCain.

So did the the Lancaster (Pa.) New Era, North County (Ca.) TImes, Grand Rapids Press in Michigan and Galveston (Tex.) Daily News, Knoxville (Tenn.) News-Sentinel, The Desert Sun of Palm Springs, Calif., The Lincoln (Neb.) Journal-Star, Bristol (Va.) Herald, Centralia (Wash.) Chronicle, The Argus Leader in Sioux Falls, S.D., Claremont (N.H.) Eagle Times, Sioux City (Iowa) Journal, Lynchburg News & Advance, Waynesboro News-Virginian, four dailies in West Virginia (in Weirton, Elkins, Charleston and Parkersburg), Rappahannock (Va.) News, and  Hudson (Wisc.) Star-Observer.

Of course, the two most widely circulated papers in the country, USA Today and The Wall Street Journal do not endorse candidates. The Mental Floss blog points out:

The last time the WSJ endorsed a candidate was 1928, and perhaps the ensuing embarrassment was enough to scare the paper away from endorsements permanently. When handicapping the race between Herbert Hoover and Al Smith, the Journal‘s editors wrote, “That a financial newspaper should be independent goes without saying … Nevertheless it advises its readers to vote for Hoover, as the soundest proposition for those with a financial stake in the country.” You may remember hearing about an epic financial crash less than a year later.

Over time, the Journal’s no-endorsements policy became so strict that it necessitated an explanation every election cycle. In 1972, the editors clarified the issue: “Indeed, the short reason is simplicity itself: We don’t think our business is telling people how to vote … We do not see any meaningful way in which that would either add to the reader’s understanding of his times or raise the level of the public debate.”

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Al Tompkins is one of America's most requested broadcast journalism and multimedia teachers and coaches. After nearly 30 years working as a reporter, photojournalist, producer,…
Al Tompkins

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