Fanning the Flames: The Freedom Project Blog

1.11.2010

Prehistoric Print Endorsements?

By Shawn Healy
It's newspaper endorsement season once more, and the rival Chicago Sun-Times and Tribune have cooked up different recipes for eager readers and recalcitrant voters. With the February 2 state primary in Illinois inching ever closer, these major dailies clearly feel obligated to weigh in on what to date has been a muddled field, but to what effect? In an era of declining readership and a politically disengaged populace, do newspaper endorsements reflect little more than the proverbial tree falling in a desolate forest?

I would suggest that there still is a place for newspaper endorsements, even if voters are unlikely to read them in print form, if at all. Research suggests that editorial endorsements do sway voters in political contests down the ballot. For example, the Tribune's endorsement of Barack Obama in the 2008 presidential election likely had little impact on his historic victory, but their picks for comptroller and treasurer this morning may push little known candidates S. Raja Krishnamoorthi and Robin Kelly, respectively, over the top.

Moreover, in a truncated primary season like this one, political information is at a premium, and the newspapers provide arguably the most objective, accessible, and thorough source. Ten-second soundbytes on local television emphasizing only the most visible races like governor tell us little about who should be his second-in-command. Given that Pat Quinn currently resides in the Governor's mansion even though he was twice elected to a lesser position, the importance of this office and others cannot be overstated.

On top of that, many of the primary fields are quite crowded with candidates assuming policy positions that are difficult to distinguish from one another. Editorial boards have the luxury of unencumbered face time with most of these office seekers, and separate the wheat from the chafe for those of us in search of shortcuts as we lead otherwise busy lives.

For example, the Sun-Times selected State Senator Kirk Dillard from a crowded Republican gubernatorial field, and Quinn in a competitive contest with Comptroller Dan Hynes. They centered on Dillard's vast Springfield experience and ability to work across the aisle, and Quinn's steady hand since assuming the reigns a year ago from the impeached Blagojevich.

The Tribune, on the other hand, offers up Andy McKenna on the Republican side and refuses to endorse either Quinn or Hynes for the Democrats. McKenna is elevated for his fiscal austerity and business background, while the Democrats are assailed for Quinn's failure to lead on political reform and budget balancing, and Hynes' refusal to take on entrenched interests and support pension reform.

Where does this leave Democratic voters, you might ask?

I would argue it exemplifies the role of editorial endorsements themselves. They are merely suggestive information pieces that voters can consult to shape their ballot box decisions. Surely they operate within a complicated matrix of other guideposts like political parties, peer networks, personal appeals, policy positions, social media outreach, and television, radio, direct mail, and Internet advertisements.

I might add that this voter in waiting is eagerly anticipating the newspapers' take on who should lead the Cook County Water Reclamation District.

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SHAWN HEALY

Managing Director

McCormick Freedom Project

Shawn is responsible for overseeing and managing the operations associated with the McCormick Freedom Project. Additionally, he serves as the in house content expert and voice of museum through public speaking and original scholarship. Before joining the Freedom Project, he taught American Government, Economics, American History, and Chicago History at Community High School in West Chicago, IL and Sheboygan North High School in Wisconsin.

Shawn is a doctoral candidate within the Political Science Department at the University of Illinois at Chicago where he received his MA in Political Science. He is a 2001 James Madison Fellow from the State of Wisconsin and holds a bachelor's degree in Political Science, History, and Secondary Education from the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

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About Fanning the Flames and the McCormick Freedom Project


Fanning the Flames is a blog of the McCormick Freedom Project, which was started in 2006 by museum managing director Shawn Healy. The blog highlights the news of the day, in hopes of engaging readers in dialogue about freedom issues. Any views or opinions expressed on this blog represent those of the writers alone and do not represent an official opinion of the McCormick Freedom Project.



Founded in 2005, the McCormick Freedom Project is part of the McCormick Foundation. The Freedom Project’s mission is to enable informed and engaged participation in our democracy by demonstrating the relevance of the First Amendment and the role it plays in the ongoing struggle to define and defend freedom. The museum offers programs and resources for teachers, students, and the general public.


First Amendment journalism initiative


The Freedom Project recently launched a new reporting initiative with professional journalists Tim McNulty and Jamie Loo. The goal is to expand and promote the benefits of lifelong civic engagement among citizens of all ages, through original reporting, commentary and news aggregation on First Amendment and freedom issues. Please visit the McCormick Freedom Project's news Web site, The Post-Exchange at



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Senior Journalist
McCormick Freedom Project


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