Why Endorse?

November 3rd, 2014 · 2 Comments · journalism

By Denise Tessier

Could the Albuquerque Journal’s endorsement of Susana Martinez for governor actually cut the number of votes she gets?

Or does the paper’s endorsement give her a boost?

For that matter, does a Journal endorsement (or lack thereof) affect the chances of approval for any of the dozens of candidates, State Constitutional amendments, bonds, mill levy and advisory questions on Tuesday’s ballot?

The data-driven news site Vox recently offered a partial answer to those questions by highlighting a study that concluded: The answer depends on whether the voter’s views are ideologically similar to that of the newspaper.

At this point it almost goes without saying that the Journal is perceived as ideologically conservative (Republican-leaning), regardless of how many endorsements it gave Democrats in this year’s races.

The 2012 study by Dartmouth’s Kyle Dropp and MIT’s Chris Warshaw found that with regard to general elections, an endorsement from newspapers ideologically similar to the voter increased support for the candidate by approximately 5 points.

Regarding primary elections, the study came to a similar conclusion, but also found that an endorsement from an ideologically dissimilar paper reduced voter support by about 10 points.

So, this study tells us that an endorsement is added incentive for voters who like their paper’s views in general, but that those who disagree with their paper disagree with a bit more passion. One has to assume that there’s also a contingent of voters for whom the endorsements matter not a whit.

It’s fair to assume that some of that latter contingent group know the endorsements can be arbitrary – even hypocritical – and do not necessarily reflect the views of the newspaper staff, and in some cases don’t even reflect the views of the editorial board (as I reported in a post for the New Mexico Independent, no longer available online).

Just this past month, the editor of the Michigan Chronicle – who said he doesn’t agree with newspaper endorsements – told a radio audience that those upset with his paper’s endorsement of Gov. Rick Snyder should take their complaints to the publisher, because it was the publisher’s decision (which is often the case in the newspaper business. )

But the more pressing question is, how long will papers keep their readers when they continue to endorse?

At the risk of repeating myself, this is a question that seems to come up with every election and every endorsement cycle, as newspapers that claim to be fair, impartial and unbiased make public recommendations that ingratiate themselves with some candidates and offend others, reassure/ help some readers and infuriate others to the point of canceling subscriptions.

Add to that the Journal’s tradition of failing to mention the negatives about a candidate in the editorials making their case for endorsement, pretending that readers won’t notice those omissions. But readers do notice.

The Journal has lost subscribers offended by endorsements in the past. This year, at least one household announced it was canceling its subscription to the Santa Fe New Mexican because that paper endorsed Gov. Susan Martinez for re-election.

The New Mexican could have chosen not to endorse. The reader who announced her subscription cancellation made that point in the comment stream below the editorial, writing:

So sad to see the SFNM endorse Susana Martinez for Governor. Maybe the paper should have abstained from this one. . . . We have canceled our paper subscription. . . .

Others didn’t go as far, but did express surprise, with comments like:

No way! Is it snowing in Hades? Better look out the window for some flying pork!

And:

The New Mexican has really blown this one. . . .

It is curious that the New Mexican didn’t abstain, rather than alienate part of its reader base, because even its editorial endorsement acknowledged problems with the choice, saying:

New Mexico voters are between a rock and a hard place this November as they select their next governor.

They are faced with two choices.

There’s incumbent Republican Gov. Susana Martinez, personally popular, but who, in her first term, has failed to strengthen the state’s economy, whose education reforms aren’t improving learning yet burden children and teachers, and whose dismantling of the state’s behavioral health system is unpardonable.

Then there’s the challenger, Democratic Attorney General Gary King, also likeable, but who offers a lackluster record as attorney general and has not leveraged his campaign to show voters why he is the better person to run the state.

Instead of declining to choose either, the New Mexican editorial said “. . .choose we must.”

Considering the Weekly Alibi graphically depicted Martinez as the devil on its election cover, readers might have expected the alternative free paper to go the other way and endorse challenger Gary King.

But his depiction on the cover as the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man was a tip-off: The Alibi endorsed no one. (Perhaps the devil depiction was prompted by the governor’s failure to return the Alibi’s candidate questionnaire; King returned his.)

At the start of last week, no other New Mexico newspaper had endorsed King, according to a Politics Notebook story in the Journal. However, before the week was out, the Santa Fe Reporter came out for King.

Even while acknowledging “unpardonable” problems with Martinez’s leadership of the past four years, the New Mexican gave her the nod nonetheless, as did the Las Cruces Sun-News, the (Farmington) Daily Times, the Roswell Record, the Taos News and Las Vegas Optic.

Old habits, apparently, are hard to break.

 

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2 Comments so far ↓

  • Gen13Gent

    Newspaper endorsements have their greatest effect on the least informed…and on the items further down on the ballot, such as “minor” offices and constitutional amendments, bond issues, etc.

  • Roland

    The question of whether endorsements by politically biased newspapers can slant elections is made more important by three considerations: (1) New Mexico has a disproportionate concentration of its population in one metropolitan area (Albuquerque); (2) we have only one “newspaper of record”; (3) the margin of victory in U.S. elections is typically very small (e.g. Obama won the 2012 election with 51.01% of the popular vote). Our metroplex carries disproportionate weight in determining elections, and the messages being fed to our voters are coming from one very biased newspaper. It doesn’t take much to tip elections in our country.

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