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NY Times Backs Obama; So?

The New York Times has officially endorsed Barack Obama in the upcoming presidential election. While the Times is obviously one of the most influential publications in the world, its track record of presidential endorsements has yielded mixed results. The newspaper, … Read More

By / October 24, 2008

The New York Times has officially endorsed Barack Obama in the upcoming presidential election. While the Times is obviously one of the most influential publications in the world, its track record of presidential endorsements has yielded mixed results. The newspaper, which was founded in 1851 as the New-York Daily Times, has made an endorsement in every presidential election since 1860, when it backed Republican Abraham Lincoln against Southern Democrat John C. Breckinridge, Northern Democrat Stephen A. Douglas and Constitutional Unionist John Bell. The Paper of Record began its run of endorsements with a bang, picking the winning candidate in its initial seven elections, with the first six of their selections being Republicans. In 1884, the Times made its first endorsement of a Democratic candidate, picking Grover Cleveland over Republican Speaker of the House James Blaine. The 1884 election would mark the beginning of a New York Times love affair with Cleveland during which the paper would endorse him in three consecutive elections, taking their first loss in 1888 before getting back in the win column when Cleveland was famously voted back into office in 1892. The 1888 loss would also mark the beginning of the Times‘ weakest string of endorsements, as their candidates would drop eight of the next 11 elections, including their lone endorsement of a third-party candidate, John M. Palmer, who lost to William McKinley in 1896. Coming off of consecutive losses in 1920, ’24 and ’28, the Times picked Franklin Roosevelt in each of his first two presidential runs, before bailing on him in favor of Wendell Wilkie in 1940 and crawling back to FDR in ’44. They picked Thomas Dewey over Harry Truman in 1945, but unlike the Chicago Tribune, they at least waited until the votes were tallied before printing the election results. The subsequent endorsements of Dwight D. Eisenhower in ’52 and ’56 (both times over Adlai Stevenson) would then be the paper’s final Republican endorsements. Beginning with John F. Kennedy’s victory over Richard Nixon in 1960, the Times’ Democratic candidates have won the presidency in five of the past twelve elections. In total, The New York Times has endorsed the winning candidate in 21 of 36 presidential elections, good for a 58.3% clip. Given the small sample size of the data available, as well as lack of insight into the variables behind the paper’s decision-making process that goes into making endorsements, I think that it is fairly safe to say that a New York Times endorsement is probably not an indicator of success in a presidential election. An Obama victory next week would continue to skew the bell curve in their favor, but let’s see what another century or two of data will reveal about the Times‘ influence over the presidency.

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