Are Newspaper Endorsements Worth More Than the Paper They’re Printed On?

Yesterday, The Des Moines Register, the largest newspaper in the first-in-the-nation caucus state, endorsed Senator Marco Rubio for the Republican presidential nomination and Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination.

Newspaper endorsements used to play big in primary elections. But they don’t seem count for very much anymore. Indeed, in reporting the Register’s endorsement of Rubio, The New York Times opined that “the paper’s once highly anticipated backing might be less meaningful than it once was, in an age of reduced print circulation.”

However, a recent history of Des Moines Register endorsements going back to 1988 found that on the Republican side, the paper’s Republican endorsements went on to win eventual GOP nomination every time.

On the Democratic side, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders can take comfort in the fact that the results have been just the opposite: The Iowa paper’s selection has never correlated with the party’s eventual nominee since 1988.

Okay, so the results are fairly lopsided in Iowa. But what about New Hampshire?

In the Granite State, the main print media mainstay is the very conservative Manchester Union-Leader—so Democrats need not apply for endorsements.

This year, the Union-Leader has endorsed New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who currently sits at around 7 percent in state polls, compared to Donald Trump, who dominates there at over 32 percent, according to the Real Clear Politics polling average.

Past primary endorsements have been more mixed. Election analyst Nate Silver, writing for the New York Times in 2011, analyzed previous endorsements and how well they correlated with the eventual New Hampshire primary winner and GOP nominee going back to the 1980 election (See graph below).

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(Nate Silver/The New York Times)

In 1979, the Union-Leader endorsed Ronald Reagan, who went on to win the primary by a whopping 50 percent, and eventually went on to win the Republican nomination and defeat President Carter in a 45 state landslide.

The newspaper’s record for successfully picking the primary winner since then has been less than stellar. The next time it’s preference matched up with those of New Hampshire GOP primary voters was 1996, when firebrand outsider Pat Buchanan defeated Bob Dole. The next successful endorsement came 12 years later when the Union-Leader endorsed Senator John McCain.

So, the big question is what impact will this round of editorial presidential nods have on this election. If someone had an answer to that question, she would be very, very rich indeed.

But if past is prologue Marco Rubio has much more of reason to smile than does Hillary Clinton.