Do Endorsements Really Influence Voters?

| 02 Mar 2015 | 05:00

Why regular folks might care about who newspapers and bigwigs pick

When I was the publisher of a chain of weekly newspapers (including this one), each year around this time, numerous political candidates came to our office for their endorsement interviews.

In races for city council or the state assembly or senate, where most voters have little knowledge of the qualifications or views of the candidates, the endorsement of the local newspaper can be very influential in the outcome of these "down ballot" races.

But in much larger races, like for mayor or governor, endorsements from the local newspaper matter much less. One could argue that the endorsements of the large dailies like the New York Post, New York Daily News and even the once-allmighty New York Times, move fewer and fewer votes these days (as circulations plummet).

A few years ago, a very bright and successful businessman, Harry Wilson, virtually swept the newspaper endorsements around the city (and in much of the State) but he came up short as the GOP challenger to incumbent state comptroller Tom DiNapoli.

This year, we will have another very interesting test case on the power of newspaper endorsements in the city comptroller race. Scott Stringer swept the News, Post and Times, but according to recent polls, still lags behind former Governor Eliot Spitzer.

Can Stringer use the "Good Housekeeping" seal of approval that these editorial endorsements represent to nose ahead of Spitzer on primary day? Time will tell.

Beside newspaper endorsements, there are the much sought after union endorsements that often are accompanied by ground troops, independent expenditure advertising budgets and that old political tool, phone banks.

This year's democratic mayoral primary has a fractured set of union endorsements, with four of the five leading candidates (with the exception of Anthony Weiner) each claiming support from at least a few major unions. Until the run-off, it seems, the union support will be neutralized.

There are also the many endorsements by current and former elected leaders, but like good looks and cotton candy, they're nice to have, but don't really matter much at the end of the day.

There is one individual, I believe, whose endorsement in the mayoral race could tip the scales this year: Al Sharpton. The MSNBC pundit and former controversial reverend still has lots of sway in the African-American community. If he endorsed Bill de Blasio or Christine Quinn, it could be the death knell for the only African-American candidate, Bill Thompson.

Conversely, a strong endorsement of Thompson by Sharpton could propel the former Comptroller into a run-off and beyond.

I like to read endorsements for the persuasive cases they make for the candidate they support. They are part of my decision-making process.

But at then end of the day, it's an independent decision. Voters must educate themselves and then weigh the candidates pluses and minuses before deciding who will best move our great city forward.

Most of all, vote. It's your civic duty.

Tom Allon, the president of City and State, NY, is the former Liberal Party-backed candidate for Mayor.