Most Americans Don't Think Newspapers Should Make Endorsements

Fewer than one-fifth of people polled say they know who their local paper is backing.
Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton holds up a newspaper as she speaks to small business owners in Cedar Falls, I
Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton holds up a newspaper as she speaks to small business owners in Cedar Falls, Iowa, on May 19, 2015.

If newspaper endorsements counted as presidential votes, Hillary Clinton would be winning in a landslide. Thus far, Mother Jones reports, none of the nation’s 100 highest-circulation newspapers have come out in favor of her GOP rival, Donald Trump, including a number of staunchly Republican editorial boards with long-running streaks of supporting GOP candidates.

Clinton has the temperament and experience to be president,” the editorial board of the Arizona Republic wrote last month, explaining its decision to back a Democrat for the first time in the paper’s 126-year history. “Donald Trump does not.”

USA Today, which has never before taken a side in a presidential election, wrote that Trump “lacks the temperament, knowledge, steadiness and honesty that America needs from its presidents.”

But according to a new HuffPost/YouGov survey, most Americans either aren’t aware who their paper is endorsing, or don’t care ― and neither do they think that papers should be issuing such endorsements in the first place.

A 51 percent majority of Americans polled say that newspapers should not endorse political candidates. Just 24 percent believe that they should, while the rest are unsure.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, since this year’s endorsements have favored their candidate, Democrats are more likely to support the practice. By a 9-point margin, 40 percent to 31 percent, they say that newspapers should weigh in on the election. Republicans say by a 46-point margin, 64 percent to 17 percent, that they should not.

Americans’ reluctance to take guidance from editorial endorsements may have something to do with their lack of faith in the papers that issue them. Trust in the media, which has fallen steadily in the past decade, reached a new nadir this year, according to Gallup.

In the HuffPost/YouGov survey, just 13 percent of Americans say they trust their local newspaper “a lot,” while 43 percent trust it “somewhat” and 25 percent trust it “not very much” or “not at all.” Another 18 percent say they don’t even read a local newspaper. Democrats are 13 points more likely than Republicans to evince at least some trust in their local paper.

There’s also relatively little public awareness about whom, if anyone, newspapers are backing. Just 19 percent of Americans who read a local paper say they know whether it endorsed someone, with 15 percent saying their paper came out in favor of Clinton, and 4 percent saying it was in favor of Trump.  

Of those readers who do report knowing about an endorsement, a 53 percent majority say that it won’t affect their vote. Just 13 percent say it makes them more likely to support the candidate backed by their paper. (A Pew survey conducted in 2012, which asked about the effects of endorsements by various people and groups, found even less of a perceived impact, with 74 percent of voters polled saying a newspaper endorsement would make no difference to them.)

Literally none of the Republicans and fewer than one-tenth of the independents polled whose papers endorsed Clinton say it makes them more likely to vote for her.

Questions about how various factors are likely to affect someone’s votes are, of course, tricky ― people aren’t especially good at laying out their own decision-making processes. In this case, some might not even be accurately reporting their newspaper’s position.

And the people most susceptible to any endorsement may be those who are already inclined to support the candidate in question. While the samples are too small to look at exact numbers by party, literally none of the Republicans and fewer than one-tenth of the independents polled whose papers endorsed Clinton say it makes them more likely to vote for her.

Some research suggests that the fact that many usually-conservative papers are breaking from tradition could make their endorsements more effective than usual. One recently released study of the last two elections found some evidence that endorsements could improve a candidate’s chances of winning in close races, especially those that “come as a surprise compared to the newspaper’s endorsement history.” Earlier research found that such “crossover” endorsements could convince 1 or 2 percent of readers to change their minds.

With voters in both parties overwhelmingly supporting their nominee and only a sliver of the electorate still undecided, however, relatively few people are likely to be turning to the editorial page to make their decision.

The HuffPost/YouGov poll consisted of 1,000 completed interviews conducted Sept. 29-30 among U.S. adults, using a sample selected from YouGov’s opt-in online panel to match the demographics and other characteristics of the adult U.S. population.

The Huffington Post has teamed up with YouGov to conduct daily opinion polls.You can learn more about this project and take part in YouGov’s nationally representative opinion polling. Data from all HuffPost/YouGov polls can be found here. More details on the polls’ methodology are available here.

Most surveys report a margin of error that represents some, but not all, potential survey errors. YouGov’s reports include a model-based margin of error, which rests on a specific set of statistical assumptions about the selected sample, rather than the standard methodology for random probability sampling. If these assumptions are wrong, the model-based margin of error may also be inaccurate. Click here for a more detailed explanation of the model-based margin of error.