Voters savvy to newspaper bias

BROWN (US) — Newspaper endorsements for presidential candidates can influence voting decisions, but only if the paper’s pick is a credible one.

A new study, published in the Review of Economic Studies, finds that while voters are more likely to support a recommended candidate following a newspaper’s published support, those voters are also aware of the media’s bias in favor of one candidate over another.

Endorsements for the Democratic candidate from left-leaning newspapers are less influential than endorsements from neutral or right-leaning newspapers and likewise for endorsements from papers sympathetic to Republican candidates.


These results “suggest that voters are sophisticated and attempt to filter out any bias in media coverage of politics,” says Brian Knight, an economist at Brown University at the study’s co-author.

Individual-level data on voting intentions and newspaper readership in the months leading up to the 2000 and 2004 elections demonstrate the influence of newspaper endorsements and their credibility based on ideological leanings, ownership, and reader preferences.

The least credible endorsements were for Al Gore from The New York Times and for George W. Bush from the Dallas Morning News, which convinced less than 1 percent of their readers to switch allegiance to the endorsed candidate.

By contrast, the endorsement with the largest effects came from the Chicago Sun Times and the Denver Post, both of which had surprising endorsements. The Chicago Sun Times was predicted to endorse Gore with a probability of 58 percent, but instead endorsed Bush, while the Denver Post endorsed Gore even though it was only predicted to do so by a probability of only 35 percent.

Both “surprising” endorsements convinced about 3 percent of readers to switch allegiances, according to the findings. Endorsements are also more influential among moderate voters.

More news from Brown University: