In the age of social media and party polarization, newspaper endorsements can seem less than significant. After all, how many voters put more stock in the opinion of an editorial board than in the consensus of their friends’ Facebook posts?
But, in an election where reactionary frog memes have earned copious media coverage, newspaper endorsements might be making an improbable comeback. In recent weeks, the Dallas Morning News, Cincinnati Enquirer, and Arizona Republic all made national headlines by bucking decades — or in the Republic’s case, a full century — of precedent and picking the Democratic nominee over Donald Trump.
A recent study by Northwestern University economist Agustin Casas found that such “surprise endorsements” can impact a modern presidential race — or, at least, they can impact the way online-gambling addicts view such contests.
Casas and his research team studied movements in the betting markets on days when newspapers issued endorsements during the 2008 and 2012 elections. They found that such endorsements correlated with improved odds for the favored candidate, particularly when those endorsements are “consistent with respect to the newspaper’s discourse” but still “come as a surprise compared to the newspaper’s endorsement history.”
In other words, if the rhetorical style of the editorial departs wildly from that of the paper’s standard news coverage, the endorsement “may be more confusing than informative for their readers.” But if the endorsement is stylistically consistent — but ideologically unusual — then it’s likely to have some effect.
The Pacific Standard summarizes one circumstance that would produce such an effect:
So if the news columns of a paper reflect — however subtly — a liberal bias, and the traditionally Republican editorial page endorses a Democrat, the paper is, in effect, speaking with one voice.
To be sure, a slight correlation between a very specific kind of endorsement and movements in betting markets probably won’t provide much comfort to any editorial board that’s worried about its dwindling relevance.
But Casas’s research provides the Clinton campaign — and its heretical sympathizers on conservative op-ed pages — with one reason to think Donald Trump will make newspaper endorsements matter again.