The Dallas Morning News broke with more than 75 years of tradition on Wednesday morning to endorse a Democrat for president, choosing Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump.
And in doing so, they got right to the point: "There is only one serious candidate on the presidential ballot in November," the editorial began. "We recommend Hillary Clinton."
The Dallas Morning News’ editorial page is very, very conservative. It hasn’t endorsed a Democrat for president since Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1940. (Its unbroken streak of Republicans has one exception: In 1964, the newspaper declined to choose between Barry Goldwater and Lyndon Baines Johnson.) And the editorial included a critique of the Democratic Party’s "over-reliance on government and regulation."
But the editorial went on to savage Trump:
He plays on fear — exploiting base instincts of xenophobia, racism and misogyny — to bring out the worst in all of us, rather than the best. His serial shifts on fundamental issues reveal an astounding absence of preparedness. And his improvisational insults and midnight tweets exhibit a dangerous lack of judgment and impulse control.
Clinton, the editorial board wrote, is a "known quantity."
The endorsement is a sign of how much Trump’s campaign has shaken even staunch bastions of Republicanism. But will it matter to anybody else? Given how polarized American politics have become — not to mention the waning influence of newspapers — it’s reasonable to be skeptical that any Republicans were sitting around waiting to hear what the Dallas Morning News had to think before making up their mind on Trump.
A surprising newspaper endorsement could actually make a difference
According to a study published in 2011, though, an unusual endorsement like this might matter precisely because it’s not what readers expected to hear. Newspaper endorsements change the most minds when they break with the usual pattern to endorse a candidate of the other party.
Two political scientists, Chun-Fang Chiang, of National Taiwan University, and Brian Knight, of Brown University, studied the effect of newspaper endorsements in 2000 and 2004, using a survey that asked voters in the days leading up to the election about which newspapers they read and which candidates they preferred.
The researchers sorted newspapers on a spectrum based on how likely they were to endorse Democrats for president. The Dallas Morning News was the most predictably conservative of the group — endorsing Democrats just 17 percent of the time. At the other end of the spectrum, the New York Times endorsed Democrats 90 percent of the time.
They found that when Democratic-leaning newspapers endorsed Republicans for president, or vice versa, readers were slightly more likely to support the candidate the newspaper endorsed. If newspapers endorsed the candidates that typically lined up with the editorial page’s ideology, though, they didn’t really convince anyone. The effects were greatest among people who had seen the endorsement, as you might expect, and among older readers, who were more likely to read the editorial page.
The study’s findings might not be as true today. Newspaper circulation has fallen 20 percent since 2004, the last election the researchers studied, and more and more Americans are getting their news online or other ways. Pew found that 81 percent of the public gets at least some of its news online. Meanwhile, the American public has become even more polarized.
Still, given the Dallas Morning News’ strict conservative bent, its choice to endorse Clinton isn’t just making headlines — research suggests it could make a real difference.