I was once told that only 3-percent of newspaper readers read editorials. I suspect that figure is low, but when I mentioned this to a Los Angeles Times editorial writer yesterday he responded: “It depends who the three percent are.” True enough. Influencers and decision makers read editorials and editorial arguments and positions often become part of policy debates. And, during election season the power of editorials are often amplified.
How many television ads promote editorial support for a candidate or support or opposition for a ballot proposition? The reason this occurs is simple. Campaign consultants believe that voters will be swayed by the opinions of outside, neutral arbiters. That’s what the editorials represent in these ads—the judge at the trial; the umpire at the baseball game; the referee who throws the penalty flag when a candidate or issue campaign is caught off-sides with their rhetoric.
Despite the declining influence of newspapers in both print and digital form, the paper’s editorials can still have a big impact on elections. Consultants certainly think so when they feature the editorials in their campaign commercials.
Keeping a tab on newspaper editorials for California’s 17 ballot measures are two political and public affairs consulting firms: Ek, Sunkin, Klink and Bai headquartered in Southern California and Forward Observer in Northern California. They have assembled an editorial scorecard that reports on the editorial decisions of the state’s largest newspapers. Beyond keeping a tally for the support and opposition on each proposition, the scorecard weights the endorsement according to the paper’s circulation size. The scorecard is updated on a regular basis.
With one week to go before the election, edition eight of the scorecard was issued yesterday. Of 19 newspaper endorsements monitored, two measures, Proposition 54 that would require bills to be in print for 72 hours before being acted upon and Proposition 62 that would repeal the death penalty have unanimous support. On the other hand, Proposition 65 that would redirect money collected by retail stores from selling carry-out bags to an environmental fund and Proposition 66 that would set limits on death penalty court reviews have no support and are opposed by all 19 newspapers.
Of course, just because newspapers take a position—even a unanimous position—there is no guarantee the voters will follow suit. Indeed, the death penalty repeal backed by all the newspaper editorials is in trouble according to the newly released Hoover Institution’s Golden State Poll.
Yet, there is no denying that the editorial page gets a new breath of life during the election season when campaigns agreeing with a particular editorial’s wisdom promotes it far and wide across the state.
The latest Ek, Sunkin, Klink and Bai /Forward Observer scorecard can be found here.