Another conservative newspaper endorses Clinton. Does it matter?

The Columbus Dispatch is the latest conservative to endorse Clinton, but can such endorsements sway the election? 

Andrew Harnik/AP
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks at a Women for Hillary fundraiser at the Hyatt Regency in Washington, Oct. 5, 2016. Mrs. Clinton received the endorsement of the conservative-leaning Columbus Dispatch.

Another Republican-leaning newspaper has broken a time-honored tradition this presidential election, this time in a swing state.

The Columbus Dispatch endorsed Hillary Clinton in an editorial it published Sunday, the first time the Ohio newspaper has backed a Democrat for president since Woodrow Wilson ran 100 years ago.

An endorsement from the only daily newspaper in Ohio's largest city has been a coveted prize for any candidate since at least 2004. Yet, the Dispatch’s endorsement is also part of an emerging trend of traditionally-conservative newspapers doing an about-face when faced with endorsing Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump. The Dallas Morning News, the San Diego Union-Tribune, and the Arizona Republic are among a few others that have defied tradition.

In the Information Age, newspaper endorsements have lost the weight they used to carry.  Nevertheless, these publications and the arguments their editorial boards lay out are statements in themselves, offering harsh warnings about a Trump presidency, even when faced with angry emails and subscription cancellations.

“For us,” writes the Dispatch’s editorial board, “the choice between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump is not pleasant, but it isn’t difficult. Republican candidate Donald Trump is unfit to be president of the United States." The Dispatch blasts Trump’s impulsiveness, treatment of Mexicans and Muslims, relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin, and economic policies.  

The editorial acknowledges some of Clinton's faults and its disagreement with her calls for higher taxes, unsustainable spending, and the likelihood that she will try to stack the US Supreme Court with a left-leaning majority. Still, it urges readers not to vote for Trump, a third-party candidate, or to abstain out of protest.

“The stakes are too high to sit out this election and risk letting Trump misuse the awesome power of the presidency,” it writes. 

The editorial board’s harsh treatment of Trump is reminiscent of the language other conservative-leaning newspapers have used to endorse Clinton. Other phrases editorial writers have written to describe Trump include a “clear and present danger to our country,” “xenophobia, racism, and misogyny,” and “beneath our national dignity.”

In its evisceration of Trump, however, the Arizona Republic also said Clinton is the only candidate who can bring the country together. In the Republic’s first endorsement of a Democratic presidential candidate in 116 years, it referred to Clinton as a “centrist.”

“She can move us beyond rancor and incivility,” it writes.

According to a list of major newspapers’ endorsements compiled by Mother Jones, other publications that backed Mitt Romney in the 2012 election have chosen to endorse Libertarian candidate Gary Jonson this time around. Among them are the Chicago Tribune, the Detroit News, and the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

Other publications that traditionally shy away from backing any candidate have penned anti-endorsements of Trump. They include USA Today and The Atlantic.  

Trump has been endorsed by the The New York Observer, owned by his son-in-law Jared Kushner, and the National Enquirer, a tabloid run by Trump’s friend David Pecker, and whose content focuses on celebrity scandal, according to the Associated Press.

But do newspaper endorsements matter?

Oftentimes no, the Pew Research Center found in a survey it conducted in 2008. Nearly seven in ten Americans (69 percent) participating said their local newspaper’s endorsement had no effect on who they voted for, regardless of who the paper picked. The remaining 31 percent of respondents were split over whether they were more or less likely to pick a candidate based on an endorsement.

That same year, the National Bureau of Economic Research found an exception. If a newspaper bucks tradition, it could catch readers’ attention. Democratic endorsements from conservative newspapers appeared to have more of an influence than a Republican endorsement from that paper would, the study found. The same applied to left-leaning newspapers.

It's unclear if this election's unconventional endorsements will affect polling. In the battleground state of Arizona it seems that it has. Clinton enjoyed a slight bump after the Arizona Republic endorsed her Sept. 27, according to an Emerson poll.  But in Texas and Ohio she trailed there in September, despite the unexpected support from newspapers like the Dallas Morning News, Houston Chronicle, and Cincinnati Inquirer, according to the Associated Press.

The primaries also exposed the waning effectiveness of newspapers on public opinions. In Arizona, the Republic favored Ohio Gov. John Kasich to win. Instead Trump won the state, and Mr. Kasich finished fourth. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie suffered the same fate in New Hampshire. The Manchester Union-Leader endorsed Mr. Christie who lost in the early primary there. 

Still, newspaper endorsements can push undecided voters one way or the other, Fergus Cullen, the former chairman of the New Hampshire Republican Party told The Christian Science Monitor's Linda Feldmann. 

"Boy, maybe I ought to take another look at this guy,’” said Mr. Cullen.” “That’s why it’s really helpful.”

That could mean the difference in Ohio, where Clinton leads by four points

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