Cormac McGee

Do editorial endorsements matter?

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On October 17, The Globe and Mail published an editorial announcing their endorsement for Toronto’s mayoral race: “John Tory is Toronto’s best bet.” Torontoist wants citizens to vote for Olivia Chow and the Toronto Star will release their endorsement this week.

These endorsements may be a big deal for candidates. But beyond politician’s personal promotion, it’s difficult to tell how much they matter to voters. Carleton University professor Dwayne Winseck showed editorial endorsements were out of step with public opinion in the 2011 federal election. In a 2007 editorial, The Hamilton Spectator admitted its track record of picking winners wasn’t good.

As the editors at the Winnipeg Free Press point out, these endorsements may be more about the editorial board’s ego. This year, the Press is endorsing only the act of voting  in Winnipeg’s municipal election. The Guelph Mercury is also sitting out. Managing editor Phil Andrews writes that, while he supports the tradition, publishing an endorsement could be counter-productive from a business perspective.

There could be multiple reasons for this. Bloomberg Businessweek notes that as voters become increasingly accustomed to hyper-partisan media, the idea that readers would trust an editorial board to come to a balanced, authoritative conclusion about a candidate’s record can seem like a stretch. According to the Pew Research Journalism Project, voters are getting much of their news about candidates from the campaigns themselves rather than journalists. For the most part, endorsements are also predictable. You can disregard this piece if the Star gives two thumbs up to Doug Ford.

A voter may well be able to make a decision by reading competing endorsements. It certainly is convenient, and many major publications still publish them. The Stars public editor, Kathy English, says that by telling citizens who the paper considers the best candidate, the Star is living up to its democratic responsibility to both foster public debate and take a clear stand on issues that matter to citizens of the community. The posts are popular, with the Globe’s endorsement garnering 316 comments to date. But they may not be more than an affirmation for dedicated readers and a chance to spew hate for critics.


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