Do newspaper endorsements matter?

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WASHINGTON (Gray DC) -- It’s an unprecedented presidential campaign on many levels – including in the way of newspaper endorsements.

More than 150 newspaper editorial boards are endorsing Hillary Clinton in the general election. Just a handful favor Donald Trump.

So why do newspapers – that are supposed to just report the facts – pick a side in political campaigns anyway?

“They’ve been around for a really long time, because we used to have a press that was very strongly partisan," explained Prof. Nikki Usher of The George Washington University.

Usher says the tradition dates back to the 1830s and 1840s.

“They used to count a lot more when there were just a few people who could read the news and got the news," she explained.

Usher says as newspapers developed into a mass medium in the 19th and 20th centuries, these kinds of endorsements continued. But many people don’t realize the decision to endorse comes from a paper’s editorial staff, not the news staff.

“A lot of news organizations actually stopped doing newspaper endorsements, because they were worried about riling up the few consumers they had left that were still loyal," said Usher.

Usher says research shows newspaper endorsements typically don’t matter, unless they’re surprising.

“They’ve been really surprising for a number of news organization that have traditionally had Republican viewpoints or who’ve never endorsed at all," she said.

For example, The Arizona Republic, endorsed Clinton. It never backed a Democrat in its entire history. And USA Today, which has never endorsed anyone, told its readers this year, "Not Trump."

“It’s a tremendously risky proposition. It’s even ended in death threats for the Dallas Morning News. We’re not evening talking about cancelations, but death threats," said Trump.

The candidates aren’t the only ones angering voters this campaign.

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