Do Newspaper Endorsements of Candidates Compromise the News Reporting, and do the Endorsements Have an Impact on Voters?

 by Dawn Schroder

Des Moines Register Endorses Mitt Romney

The Des Moines Register’s endorsement of Mitt Romney for president sparked controversy that prompted readers to threaten cancelling their subscriptions.  The Register’s endorsement was part of the discussion on the Sunday morning national political talk show circuit and was reported in newspapers around the world.

The endorsement raises a number of questions:

  • Does the endorsement have an impact on voters?

For most voters who have already chosen a candidate, the Register’s choice does not impact their decision.  In a swing state like Iowa, where polls show the state’s electoral votes virtually evenly split within a margin of error that could go either way, the recommendation could have just enough impact to sway an undecided voter one direction or the other.

  • Should newspapers, which are in the business of reporting facts, be endorsing one candidate over another?

Newspapers have a longstanding tradition of providing opinions on their editorial pages that they insist are separate from the news reporting, and many people complain that this is inappropriate.  Defending its recent presidential endorsement, the Register said not endorsing a candidate would be abandoning a longstanding tradition and, “We would be shirking our responsibilities if we took a pass on elections.”

  • Who makes the endorsement decision?

The Des Moines Register said the decision was made after a five member editorial board that consisted of publisher Laura Hollingsworth, vice president and editor Rick Green, opinions editor Randy Evans and editorial writers Rox Laird and Andie Dominick “vigorously” debated the issue, that it was not a democracy, and that the publisher had the final decision.

Weren’t they telling readers that Romney was not chosen by a majority, but by those who had the most clout on the editorial board?

  • Is the endorsement of a candidate for office a reflection of the political preferences of the editor?

The Register’s vice president and editor, Rick Green, has been on staff at the Register since January of 2011. Gannett Company purchased the Register in 1985, and Green came from another Gannett owned newspaper, the Desert Sun, in Palm Springs, Calif., while his predecessor, Carolyn Washburn, took over as vice president and editor of the Cincinnati Enquirer, another Gannett owned paper.

 Critics accused Green’s predecessor Washburn of extreme left political leanings, however,  the Cincinnati Enquirer, where Washburn is now the editor, endorsed Romney.

On Gannett’s blog, Desert Sun readers accused Green of “tea party” style extreme conservative leanings.

In addition to Romney, the Register endorsed three Democrats and one Republican for the congressional races in Iowa.

The Des Moines Register has chosen 13 republicans and 11 democrats since they endorsed their first candidate for president in 1912 when they chose William Howard Taft.  The paper chose another Republican in 1916 and did not endorse anyone in 1920 or 1924.  The Register endorsed Republican candidates every year through their endorsement of Richard Nixon in 1960, and chose Democrats until endorsing Nixon again in 1972.  The Register endorsed Democrats every year since 1972, until the Romney endorsement.  The paper has a 9-14 record choosing the eventual winner of the election.

What do you think?  Do newspaper endorsements improve or deter from the political process?

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5 responses to “Do Newspaper Endorsements of Candidates Compromise the News Reporting, and do the Endorsements Have an Impact on Voters?

  1. Pingback: Can newspaper endorsements predict elections? [INFOGRAPHIC] | Media Editing

  2. In this election, I don’t know if a newspaper endorsement is going to have significant effect on people’s choice in the election. In past elections, it may have had a bigger impact. There has been so few true un-decideds that it hasn’t matter.

    Newspapers can say that their endorsements don’t affect their coverage, but that’s just not the truth. People rarely leave their opinions when they write a story.

    Looking at the Register’s endorsement, there was some fishy aspects to it. I have a classmate (a fellow graduate education student) tell me that looked at the Cincinnati Enquirer’s endorsement of Romney, and it’s nearly the same at the Register’s. It’s Gannett’s right to endorse to endorse whomever they want, but it shouldn’t think that people are going to think they aren’t trying to influence the election.

    If you weren’t trying to influence the election, then why endorse anyone at all?

    • I liked your point about the Cincinnati paper’s endorsement sounding a lot like the Register endorsement – it makes you wonder how much influence and power corporate has over the content in the individual papers. You also make a good point that if they weren’t trying to influence the election, then why would they make an endorsement. The thing that was irritating to me about the endorsements was that they pretty much sounded like the advertisements and the public relations lines. I think the newspaper should be able to come up with something more substantial or meaningful than the party line as a reason to endorse a candidate.

  3. I think personally, that newspapers shouldn’t endorse a candidate. I only think that they should do that if they are a newspaper/publication that specifically reports on a certain party/issue.

    I think that when a newspaper/publication endorses a candidate, it shows bias and that is one thing that I think a newspaper shouldn’t have. A newspaper should be worried about simply reporting the news/facts to the people and not offering their opinions and biases. Keep it in the editorial section.

  4. Pingback: Can newspaper endorsements predict elections? [INFOGRAPHIC] « Kerri Sorrell

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