Quinn, Lhota get all the major newspapers’ endorsements: here’s why that’s no guarantee of victory

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Now that three major New York daily newspapers — The Times, the Post and the Daily News — have all endorsed Christine Quinn as Democratic Party nominee for mayor, and two of those papers — the Times and the Post — have given Joe Lhota the GOP nod, one might think that support could translate into votes.  Not only does the record show otherwise, but reactions from some voters who spoke with PIX11 News may not bode well at all for the endorsees.

With at least eleven people from three political parties seeking to replace Michael Bloomberg as mayor, it can be a challenge for any voter to select a candidate.  Political endorsements by the editorial boards of newspapers can help, even a little, particularly in local primaries, when candidates’ records are often not well known by the public.

“They look for ways that will kind of give them a shorthand clue to vote for this one or that one,” said Baruch College political science chair Thomas Halper about the effect a newspaper’s endorsement can have on a voter’s decision.  However, Halper adds, that effect is often negligible.

“[Newspapers are] asking the readers to ‘Please take us seriously. We’re important players.'” Halper told PIX11 News.  When asked, however, if the papers actually are important players in the voting process, he answered, “Not terribly.”

To illustrate that point, Halper, who’s written at least four books on politics over his four decade career, specifically analyzed the effect of the endorsements of Christine Quinn by the three major New York newspapers, all of which have been made within the last five days.

“The fact that Quinn is not a clear leader [in the polls], and in all likelihood she’ll have to face a runoff,” said Halper, “indicates even all of these endorsements are not worth a great deal.”

Also, it’s well worth noting the New York Times’s own documentation of its general election endorsements over the years.  Since 1913, it’s endorsed 27 candidates.  Of those, 15 won, meaning an endorsee has a 56 percent chance of winning.  That’s only a hair greater chance than a coin toss.

Bearing out those statistics were comments from voters.  In fact, in a random sampling by PIX11 News of New York City voters outside City Hall, the likelihood that people would follow the advice given by the major newspapers was nil, and the opinions given by those polled, albeit unscientifically, were strong.

PIX11 News specifically asked about the triple endorsements of City Council Speaker Christine Quinn for mayor.

“Not for her,” said Julia Duncan, who lives in Washington Heights in Manhattan.  When asked why she wouldn’t vote for the woman who’d been so strongly recommended by the papers, Duncan responded, “Not her style.  Get the [expletive] out of here.  She’s down with Bloomberg.”

Another woman voter, who would not give her name, said that the endorsements did not sway her at all “because I don’t want to vote for her.  I don’t believe in some of her policies,” the woman said.

Peter Dachille, another New York City voter, said that endorsements don’t play any role in influencing his vote.  “I go by not what I read,” Dachille said, “not in media outlets.  It doesn’t affect me.”

However, it does appear to have an effect on campaigns not endorsed by the publications. For example, even as the New York Times devoted most of an entire page to its endorsement of Christine Quinn, nearly an entire paragraph of the endorsement was devoted to praising her opponent, and sometimes poll leader, Bill de Blasio.

“Mr. de Blasio has been the most forceful and eloquent of the Democrats in arguing that New York needs to reset its priorities in favor of the middle class, the struggling and the poor,” the Times wrote.  “His stature has grown as his message has taken root — voters leery of stark and growing inequalities have embraced his message of ‘two cities.’  He has ennobled the campaign conversation by insisting, correctly, that expanding early education is vital to securing the city’s future.”

Some of those positive comments the de Blasio campaign has already incorporated into its campaign commercials, and has attributed to the New York Times.

It’s why, Prof. Halper told PIX11 News, that one of the greatest strengths of a newspaper endorsement is not its ability to influence voters.  Instead, it’s the ability for a candidate to raise money — whether or not he or she has actually been endorsed.

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