During President Obama’s off-again, on-again, interview relationship with the Des Moines Register this week, I couldn’t help but wonder why the brouhaha was making news. (Well, one reason was clear: journalists tend to think the opinions of other journalists are worth writing about.) Like the media’s insistence upon covering the shifting time slots of late-night talk shows, focusing on newspaper endorsements seems rather anachronistic. What use does a polarized electorate have for editorial boards, when it receives its news in large part from social media, partisan websites, and television shows? And those mysterious low-information voters who haven’t made up their minds? I’d wager they aren’t relying upon newspapers to do so.
That said, a 2008 paper by two economists from Brown University suggests newspaper endorsements can in fact change voters’ minds. If a liberal paper endorses a liberal candidate, no substantial change is registered. The paper’s readership, is, after all, liberal. A moderate paper, on the other hand, has more credibility among voters. When the Chicago Sun-Times and the Denver Post endorsed Kerry and Bush, respectively, the study registered that three percent of readers switched its voting allegiance. That effect was likely boosted by the fact that the Sun-Times and the Post had flipped their own allegiances from 2000.
With that in mind, two newspaper endorsements in particular could prove unusually important this election. According to the American Presidency Project at the University of California-Santa Barbara, seven of the country’s top 100 newspapers have flipped from Obama in 2008 to Romney this year, and one from McCain to Obama. (Many haven’t released endorsements yet.) Three are in Texas, two are in California, and one is in Tennessee, all states that are decided. The remaining two, however, the Florida Sun-Sentinel and the Orlando Sentinel, are located in an all-important swing state. Moderate papers that endorsed Democrat Bill Nelson for U.S. Senate, each made lukewarm jobs-related arguments for Romney. Which might be enough to convince economy-focused swing voters who are unsure about the Republican candidate.
*Update: Make the Des Moines Register the third swing-state, moderate newspaper to flip from Obama to Romney this year.