Supporters of President Obama gasped prior to the election when four of the major newspapers in Iowa backed Mitt Romney for president in that crucial state. As it turns out, they needn’t have worried, with the President breezing to victory with 52% of the Hawkeye vote.
But the endorsements penned by the Des Moines Register, Cedar Rapids Gazette, Quad-City Times and Sioux City Journal were far from the only ones in the country this election cycle that were out of step with voters in their states.
The disconnect was similar in a number of pivotal states, suggesting the waning power of newspaper endorsements – at least in this particular election – to sway the electorate in an age when readers have access to multiple digital and cable-news sources to shape their political views.
In a rundown of swing-state endorsements, Poynter.Org found publisher-reader disconnects all over the place.
Though final returns from Florida were pending at this writing, Romney evidently was narrowly defeated in spite of being endorsed by seven of the state’s dailies. He failed in Nevada, even though he was backed by two of the three biggest newspapers in the state. And he lost Ohio in spite of being pushed by the Cincinnati Enquirer and Columbus Dispatch, which serve two of the biggest blue counties in the must-win state.
The disconnect was bipartisan. Romney captured North Carolina, even though Obama was favored by five dailies in the state, including such biggies as the Charlotte Observer, the Raleigh News & Observer and the Winston-Salem Journal.
At the same time the recommendations of many newspapers diverged from the sentiments of the majority of voters in their states, a number of publishers skipped endorsing a presidential candidate altogether. Among the major publications declining to back a candidate this year were the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, the Virginia Pilot and the Palm Beach Post.
Given the number of publishers whose endorsements failed to help their chosen candidate carry their states, is the decision not to endorse a presidential candidate the better part of valor?
A non-endorsement policy might be good for a newspaper’s credibility, because it eliminates one of the potential arguments that its coverage is biased. And a gelded editorial page might be good for business, because an endorsement-free publication minimizes the chances of offending readers and advertisers.
But a newspaper lacking the gumption to endorse a presidential candidate looks pretty lame in a day when opinions are a dime a dozen on the Internet and the airwaves.
The only thing worse than a newspaper recusing itself in an election is a publication that finds itself zigging when its readers are zagging.
The fact that so many newspapers were not on the same page as the majority of voters in several swing states in this election suggests they may be dangerously out of tune with the communities they serve.
And the reason for this may be that newspapers tend to be published by and for older white people, an increasingly shrinking portion of the population and the electorate. Without new products and services to appeal to next-generation voters, the relevance and influence of newspapers will continue to diminish, too.
And that cannot possibly be good for business.