Newspaper readership may have declined over the past couple of decades, but their endorsements are still worth something to candidates, especially as races reach their final days.
“I think actually newspaper endorsements mean a lot,” said Seton Hall political science professor Matt Hale. “They’re a signaling mechanism and a shorthand mechanism that your local newspaper – the people who are in a sense paid to watch politics so you can watch Netflix – have decided that this is the right candidate for us.”
Candidates use those endorsements in last-minute ads to convince the few voters who are not yet certain about their vote or to pick up voters that aren’t paying attention at all, said Rowan political science professor Ben Dworkin.
There are fewer of the former group than there were in the past, as Americans have grown more partisan, both in their politics and their media consumption, over the past years, Dworkin said. Attacks on the media have only compounded those feelings.
“In a previous generation when more people read newspapers and more people were truly independent, the endorsement mattered more, Dworkin said. “Now, it doesn’t mean that it’s nothing. Candidates are going to use these as a third-party validator in their last-minute advertising to show and encourage people to come out and support them.”
Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-Toms River) recently ran one such ad touting his endorsement by the Burlington County Times. The endorsement there took up only a few seconds of the ad’s 30-second run-time, and MacArthur spent the rest establishing a fairly-mild — by the standards of this year’s election — contrast between himself and Democrat Andy Kim.
There’s also the obvious point about readership declining in general, but the platform through which many readers consume their news has changed as well, and that may hurt the influence of newspaper endorsements among even loyal readers.
“An increasing number of voters are seeing them online, which means you get a handful of the stories that pop up, not necessarily the opinion page,” Dworkin said.