May 1, 2018 | Reading Time: 3 minutes
Nearly Every Major Paper Endorsed Clinton. Did Voters Ignore Them?
A new study gives us reason to think the conventional wisdom is wrong.
A post-2016 question still lingering centers on editorial endorsements.
Are they influential or impotent?
Given that opinion pages have historically been the most authoritative forum for public debate, the answer is important to the republic’s future health.
Nearly every major daily paper gave its blessing to the Democratic candidate, Hillary Clinton. If not Clinton, it endorsed Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson. Only two major papers, the New York Post and the Las Vegas Review Journal, favored then-candidate Donald Trump. (That they are both owned by well-known Republican billionaires made their endorsements foregone conclusions as much as public-service recommendations.) The election’s result answered the question, or seemed to. As they have declined over the last decade as a business power, newspapers have declined as a political power. They chose Clinton while the country chose Trump.
That voters seemed to ignore editorial endorsements fueled the growing notion that media elites were out of touch with the interests of ordinary Americans. Moreover, it sparked the conventional wisdom of our time: that Americans are so encased by their social-media information bubbles that they can’t give opposing views a fair hearing.
I have argued that civility can be overrated, especially when it’s cover for fear. Politics, after all, is about conflict. The Republicans tend to bring guns to knife fights. The Democrats tend to respond with appeals to civility. Some like me have argued seriously that the Democrats should behave badly. Political scientist David Faris wrote a entire book on why the Democratic Party needs to learn to fight dirty.
None of this is not to say that civility is not useful. Its utility is evident in presidential polls showing that Donald Trump is the least popular president, perhaps ever. Yes, the Democrats are guilty of avoiding conflict, but they are right in appealing to reason and truth. And a new study suggests their appeal to civility is strategically correct.
What if Americans are not so encased by their social-media information bubbles. In a new paper published in the Quarterly Journal of Political Science, researcher Alex Coppock found that fact-based opinion articles have lasting impact on the views of Democrats and Republicans, elites and ordinary readers. Given how ingrained the conventional “bubble” wisdom is by now, this really should blow your mind.
More than 3,500 ordinary people were shown one of five op-eds published in major news outlets. The op-eds championed libertarian policies on climate change, federal spending on transportation and infrastructure, and on instituting a flat income tax.
Yale political scientist Adam Coppock and his team of researchers gauged immediate reactions and gauged them again 10 and 30 days later. The same experiment was done on more than 2,100 elites, such as journalists, policy makers and people with nothing better to do. In both groups, people changed their minds. Coppock said:
“We found that op-ed pieces have a lasting effect on people’s views regardless of their political affiliation or their initial stance on an issue. People read an argument and were persuaded by it.
“It’s that simple.”
Yes, it’s that simple.
And maybe there’s an equally simple reason why all these Americans encased in their social-media information bubbles seemed to ignore editorial endorsements by nearly every major daily newspaper in the country. They didn’t ignore them.
After all, only two major dailies endorsed Trump. The rest picked a Democrat, a libertarian or none of the above. That suggests that readers took endorsements to heart, they were persuaded by reason, argument, and the trappings of civility, and that a Trump presidency isn’t the result of electoral will so much as a mathematical fluke.
And that suggests that the Democrats, maddeningly conflict-averse as they are, are in touch with not only American elites, but also ordinary Americans.
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John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.