Bob Bestler

Newspaper endorsements should still hold weight in local elections

By Bob Bestler

On the Loose

I saw a Huffington Post/YouGov survey recently showing that more than half of Americans – 51 percent – believe newspapers should not endorse political candidates. Only 24 percent thought they should.

You’ll have to count me among the 24 percent, even as several newspapers, for a variety of reasons, are no longer making endorsements.

This year, of course, Donald Trump’s wild campaign has forced every major newspaper to support a Democrat, some for the first time in decades.

On that basis alone, one would think Hillary Clinton would be crushing Trump, but even on this final weekend the polls say otherwise.

I’m not too surprised because, while they are interesting, I’ve never thought newspaper endorsements carried much weight in presidential elections.

Most of us have seen plenty of both candidates, through primaries and the long presidential campaign.

We know enough to make up our own minds about them, especially in this age of 24/7 coverage of a candidate’s every burp.

Newspaper endorsements in a presidential election only certify our own beliefs, one way or the other. They rarely, I would suggest, change our opinions of a presidential candidate.

The same cannot be said for dozens of others seeking our vote in various elections – the city and county councilmen, the school board, the state representatives.

As a rule, those candidates are not so familiar to us and that is when we ought to turn to a newspaper endorsement to judge their worthiness for office.

Ideally, a newspaper editorial board has had a chance to interview all candidates for public office and asked the hard questions on behalf of their readers.

I was on the Charlotte Observer’s editorial board for a few years in the 1970s and I can assure you that everyone running for office sought our endorsement. Some lost anyway, but some won.

In 1972, for instance, we interviewed Republicans Jesse Helms and Jim Holshouser. Helms was elected to the U.S. Senate despite our endorsement of his opponent; meanwhile, our endorsement of Jim Holshouser helped give North Carolina its first Republican governor in the 20th century.

One candidate for the Charlotte City Council once stated the importance of an endorsement be telling me he actually saw voters take our endorsements into the voting booth, in case they couldn't remember them. (He won, by the way. I don't remember if we endorsed him.)

Even now, I often check out a newspaper’s political endorsements. I don't always agree with them, though sometimes I learn something about a candidate or an issue that I didn't know – for good or ill.

The main thing about such endorsement is that voters are able to be reasonably informed and not just by tossing coins in the air.

It’s all a part of good citizenship.

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