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Short odds: newspapers bet on political winners rather than ideology.

When conservatives accuse the press of being liberal, liberals often point to the surveys conducted by Editor & Publisher during the last 50 years. Those surveys show that in every presidential election since 1968, with one exception, more daily newspapers in this country endorsed the Republican presidential candidate than the Democratic presidential candidate. The one exception was 1992 when candidate Bill Clinton got more endorsements.

Conservatives often counter this argument by saying the numbers are skewed by the amount of small and medium-sized dailies that endorsed the Republican candidate and that if you look at the large-circulation dailies--the newspapers often referred to by conservatives as "the elitist press"--you will find Democrats favored by those papers with large circulations and greater national influence.

SJR couldn't find the statistics for large-circulation newspaper endorsements anywhere.

So, we decided to get them on our own. We decided to cover the last six presidential elections going back to 1980. First, we determined which 20 newspapers in each of those years had the largest circulations at the time. Then, we began calling the editorial-page editors at those newspapers to find out which candidate the papers endorsed. The results are contained in the following six charts.

A few things jump out. For one, in many of the years covered, three of the top four newspapers, by circulation, did not endorse anyone for president--USA Today, the Wall Street Journal and the Los Angeles Times consistently refuse to endorse presidential candidates. (In 1988, the sixth largest newspaper by circulation, the Washington Post, couldn't make up its mind between Vice president George Bush and Gov. Michael Dukakis, saying that if the two major political parties couldn't come up with anyone better than those two, it was dropping out of the endorsement game.)

Another fact that jumps out in our survey is that, except for 2000, the top 20 newspapers in the United States collectively endorsed the eventual winner every election year. (Some would say this situation was also true in 2000 since the top 20 papers went for Vice President Al Gore.) This could mean that the newspapers' influences are powerful. Or, it could mean that the editorial pages of American newspapers invariably go with a winner rather than with an ideology.

Also, three times, in 1980, 1984 and 1988, the so-called "elite" press went for the Republican candidate--in 1980, it meant turning its collective back on an incumbent Democrat. On the other hand, it also turned its collective back on an incumbent Republican in 1992.

So, overall, the numbers are ambiguous. Republicans can draw the conclusions they want, and Democrats can do the same.

Still, our statistics don't seem to support the idea that U.S. newspapers are monolithically liberal, at least not on their editorial pages. It's more complicated than that. Also, it should be remembered that every one of the newspapers in these charts is owned by a huge corporation and most corporations are apolitical. The shrinking number of dailies in this country simply don't have the powerful and protective political agendas they used to have--The New York Times" virtual character assassination of Clinton in 1998 and '99 attests to that.
1980 election endorsements

 NEWSPAPERS CIRCULATION (Avg. Daily) ENDORSEMENT

 The Wall Street Journal 1,838,891 Don't endorse
 New York Daily News 1,524,641 Reagan
 Los Angeles Times 1,000,942 Don't endorse
 The New York Times 873,255 Carter
 Chicago Tribune 784,388 Reagan
 Chicago Sun-Times 655,322 Carter
 New York Post 639,604 Reagan
 The Detroit News 629,598 Reagan
 Detroit Free Press 604,062 Carter
 The Washington Post 584,500 Carter
 San Francisco Chronicle 509,354 Reagan
 The Boston Globe ** 501,520 Anderson
 Newsday 489,888 No one
The Philadelphia Bulletin * 434,105 N/A
 The Philadelphia Inquirer 425,877 Carter
 The Newark Star-Ledger 406,728 Carter
 The Miami Herald 398,415 Carter
The Cleveland Plain Dealer 395,452 Reagan
 Houston Chronicle 356,288 Reagan
 The Houston Post * 331,172 N/A

* No longer exists

** Endorsed Anderson and Carter, figures not included in Carter's
totals

1980 Vote

Candidate Electoral Popular

 Reagan 489 43,899,248
 Carter 489 36,481,435
Anderson 0 5,719,437

Newspapers endorsing Reagan 4,839,325
Newspapers endorsing Carter 3,948,159

1984 election endorsements

 NEWSPAPERS CIRCULATION (Avg. Daily) ENDORSEMENT

 The Wall Street Journal 1,959,873 Don't endorse
 New York Daily News 1,346,840 Reagan
 USA Today 1,162,668 Don't endorse
 Los Angeles Times 1,046,965 Don't endorse
 The New York Times 934,530 Mondale
 New York Post 930,026 Reagan
 Chicago Tribune 776,348 Reagan
 The Washington Post 728,857 Mondale
 The Detroit News 656,367 Reagan
 Chicago Sun-Times 649,891 Reagan
 Detroit Free Press 647,130 Mondale
 Newsday 539,065 No one
 San Francisco Chronicle 535,796 Reagan
 The Philadelphia Inquirer 525,569 Mondale
 The Boston Globe 520,081 Mondale
 The Cleveland Plain Dealer 482,564 Reagan
 Houston Chronicle 441,557 Reagan
 The Newark Star-Ledger 434,117 Reagan
 The Miami Herald 419,631 Reagan
Minneapolis Star and Tribune 373,145 Mondale

1984 Vote

Candidate Electoral Popular

 Reagan 525 54,455,075
 Mondale 13 37,577,185

Newspapers endorsing Reagan 6,673,137
Newspapers endorsing Mondale 3,729,312

1988 election endorsements

 NEWSPAPERS CIRCULATION (Avg. Daily) ENDORSEMENT

 The Wall Street Journal 1,869,950 Don't endorse
 USA Today 1,338,734 Don't endorse
 New York Daily News 1,281,706 Bush
 Los Angeles Times 1,116,334 Don't endorse
 The New York Times 1,038,829 Dukakis
 The Washington Post 769,318 No one
 Chicago Tribune 715,618 Bush
 Newsday 680,926 Dukakis
 The Detroit News 677,385 Bush
 Detroit Free Press 629,065 Dukakis
 Chicago Sun-Times 579,272 Bush
 San Francisco Chronicle 559,312 Bush
 New York Post 550,473 Bush
 The Boston Globe 509,060 Dukakis
The Philadelphia Inquirer 502,756 Dukakis
 The Newark Star-Ledger 462,084 Bush
The Cleveland Plain Dealer 444,884 Bush
 Houston Chronicle 420,320 Bush
 The Baltimore Sun 406,599 No one
 The Miami Herald 401,423 Bush

1988 Vote

Candidate Electoral Popular

 Bush 426 48,886,097
 Dukakis 111 41,809,074

Newspapers endorsing Bush 6,092,477
Newspapers endorsing Dukakis 3,360,636

1992 election endorsements

 NEWSPAPERS CIRCULATION (Avg. Daily) ENDORSEMENT

 The Wall Street Journal 1,795,206 Don't endorse
 USA Today 1,506,708 Don't endorse
 Los Angeles Times 1,146,631 Don't endorse
 The New York Times 1,145,890 Clinton
 The Washington Post 802,057 Clinton
 New York Daily News 777,129 Clinton
 Newsday 758,358 Clinton
 Chicago Tribune 724,257 Bush
 Detroit Free Press 580,372 Clinton
 San Francisco Chronicle 556,765 Bush
 Chicago Sun-Times 528,324 Clinton
 The Boston Globe 508,867 Clinton
 The Philadelphia Inquirer 502,149 Clinton
 The Newark Star-Ledger 481,027 Clinton
 The Dallas Morning News 479,215 Bush
 New York Post 437,918 Bush
 Houston Chronicle 419,725 Bush
 Minneapolis Star Tribune 410,920 Clinton
 Cleveland Plain Dealer 410,237 Clinton
 The Detroit News 398,630 Bush

1992 Vote

Candidate Electoral Popular

 Clinton 370 44,909,889
 Bush 168 39,104,545
 Perot 0 19,742,267

Newspapers endorsing Clinton 6,905,330
Newspapers endorsing Bush 3,016,510

1996 election endorsements

 NEWSPAPERS CIRCULATION (Avg. Daily) ENDORSEMENT

 The Wall Street Journal 1,783,532 Don't endorse
 USA Today 1,675,091 Don't endorse
 The New York Times 1,071,120 Clinton
 Los Angeles Times 1,029,073 Don't endorse
 The Washington Post 789,198 Clinton
 New York Daily News 734,277 Clinton
 Chicago Tribune 680,535 Dole
 Newsday 564,754 Clinton
 Houston Chronicle 545,348 Dole
 Chicago Sun-Times 496,030 Clinton
 San Francisco Chronicle 486,977 Clinton
 The Dallas Morning News 478,181 ?
 The Boston Globe 471,024 Clinton
 New York Post 429,642 Dole
 The Philadelphia Inquirer 427,175 Clinton
 The Newark Star-Ledger 405,869 Clinton
 Minneapolis Star Tribune 393,740 Clinton
 Cleveland Plain Dealer 386,256 Clinton
 The Arizona Republic 382,122 Dole
The San Diego Union-Tribune 372,081 Dole

1996 Vote

Candidate Electoral Popular

 Clinton 379 47,402,357
 Dole 159 39,198,755
 Perot 0 8,085,402

Newspapers endorsing Clinton 6,226,420
Newspapers endorsing Dole 2,409,728

2000 election endorsements

 NEWSPAPERS CIRCULATION (Avg. Daily) ENDORSEMENT

 The Wall Street Journal 1,762,761 Don't endorse
 USA Today 1,692,666 Don't endorse
 The New York Times 1,097,180 Gore
 Los Angeles Times 1,033,399 Don't endorse
 The Washington Post 762,009 Gore
 Daily News, New York 704,463 Gore
 Chicago Tribune 661,699 Bush
 Newsday 576,345 Gore
 Houston Chronicle 546,799 Bush
 The Dallas Morning News 495,597 Bush
 Chicago Sun-Times 471,031 Bush
 The Boston Globe 464,472 Gore
 San Francisco Chronicle 457,028 Gore
 The Arizona Republic 445,322 Bush
 New York Post 443,951 Bush
Denver Rocky Mountain News 426,465 Bush
 Denver Post 420,033 Gore
 The Star-Ledger, Newark 407,537 Gore
 The Philadelphia Inquirer 400,385 Gore
The San Diego Union-Tribune 370,395 Bush

2000 Vote

Candidate Electoral Popular

 Bush 271 50,456,002
 Gore 266 50,999,897
 Nader 0 2,882,955

Newspapers endorsing Bush 3,861,259
Newspapers endorsing Gore 5,289,452
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Author:Bishop, Ed; Starck, Jeff
Publication:St. Louis Journalism Review
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 1, 2003
Words:1525
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