Home > Internet > Canadian Newspaper Editorial Endorsements in the 2015 Federal Election: Elite and Out of Sync

Canadian Newspaper Editorial Endorsements in the 2015 Federal Election: Elite and Out of Sync

Once again, twenty-three newspapers across Canada followed the liberal free press tradition of endorsing a candidate for Prime Minister in the 2015 federal election.

In the previous federal election in 2011, twenty-two dailies did the same thing. And in that case, and astonishingly, every single newspaper across the land, except the Toronto Star, that editorially endorsed a candidate for Prime Minister touted Harper. In other words, in the 2011 federal election, 95% of editorial opinion expressed plunked for Steven Harper – roughly three times his standing in opinion polls at the time and the results of the prior election.

So, what happened in the 2015 election?

Of the 92 paid daily newspapers in the country, only twenty-three marshalled the resources to publish an editorial at all. Most remained silent, seemingly with little to no editorial or journalistic resources to do the job, while a few such as the Winnipeg Free Press, offered satire or get out the vote efforts.

Of the twenty-three papers that did editorialize on behalf of one party or candidate, seventeen newspapers representing 70.5% of the editorial opinion expressed lined up behind the ruling Conservatives — well over twice the Conservatives standing once the polls closed (31.9%).

The owners of the Postmedia Group directed the ten main dailies that comprise its national chain of papers and the six major Sun dailies in London, Toronto, Ottawa, Winnipeg, Calgary, Edmonton that it acquired earlier this year to publish an editorial endorsement of Steven Harper for Prime Minister (55% of expressed editorial opinion) against the opposition of some journalists and editors at these papers (also see Canadaland’s account of the situation). The Globe and Mail took the odd stance of endorsing the Conservatives but not Harper (15.6% of expressed editorial opinion).

The wall of support was not as pronounced on this occasion as it was last election, however. Torstar’s Toronto Star, Hamilton Spectator and Guelph Mercury (21% of expressed editorial opinion), for example, endorsed the Liberals, as did La Presse (Power Corp) (8% of expressed editorial opinion) and Charlottetown Guardian (Transcontinental) (1% of expressed editorial opinion). Overall, 30% of editorial opinion plunked for Justin Trudeau and the Liberals — about three-quarters of the Liberals’ standing at the polls.

Despite one-in-five voters casting their ballot for the NDP, there were no editorial endorsements for the party to be found. Le Devoir cast its lots with the Bloc Québécois (representing 2% of expressed editorial opinion).

The chart below depicts the scenario.

Federal Election 2015 Newspaper Editorial Endorsements

Clearly, the opinions of the largest newspaper chain in the country (Postmedia) and the Globe and Mail are well out of synch with the public mind when it comes to voting. This is a consistent pattern for both groups of papers, as I have documented now over the last two federal elections.

On the other side of the coin, the press is following well-behind voters, who turned out in droves this time to vote for the Liberals. Trudeau and the Liberal Party’s share of the popular vote was far above their share of editorial opinion. The standing of the Bloc and, especially, the NDP in the editorial rooms of the nation shows an even more pronounced disconnect.

There’s a couple of lessons in all this.

First, the commitments made to the Competition Bureau by the owners of Postmedia to maintain separate editorial lines at the Postmedia group of papers and the newly acquired Sun papers that it obtained from Quebecor earlier this year in order to get approval for the deal were made a mockery of. Such a weak reed has no place in the regulatory calculus of regulators.

Second, while there is no doubt that journalists and editors do not walk in lockstep with their owners, as Andrew Coyne’s resignation from the National Post editorial board, and protests from others across the Postmedia and Sun papers illustrate so well, it is clear that, when push comes to shove, the owners call the shots. And it is those owners who are most out of line with public opinion.

While journalists still likely have some latitude to do as they please, it is clear that (a) they work within an environment they are reasonably comfortable with ideologically and politically and (b) that they are well aware of the contours of the field from which they should not stray either too far or too often. If not, editorial endorsements remind them where those lines are.

None of this is any good for either a free press or even a commercially viable press. Being so out of synch with the citizens, and some of their own journalists, upon which the ideals of the free press rests is yet another nail in the coffin of one of the most important institutions of democracy: good quality journalism. Thankfully the people have a mind of their own and are quite able to make important decisions about who will form the next government independent of those who facelessly offer up editorial wisdom come election day.

  1. I don't buy it
    January 21, 2016 at 5:50 pm

    It is interesting to look at this now, in light of the Postmedia mergers and layoffs.

    Print media in this country has been falling out of touch with its readers since the late 1980s. The larger newspapers moved to more syndicated material, instead of giving readers the local content which motivated them to subscribe. Many small newspapers understood that local content was the only reason readers bought the paper.

    Then came the internet, so readers could find the syndicated material themselves, if they wanted it, for free. People don’t like to pay for something that previously was free, so companies like Postmedia chose this precise time to go behind a paywall. What were they thinking: local content already diminished, readers no longer loyal to the brand, and now getting squeezed?

    I haven’t even gotten to the editorial content yet. consider Alberta, where both daily newspapers chose to back the PCs in the provincial election; the people voted NDP. Then the editorials promptly started attacking the new government, blaming it for the previous four decades of corruption and inaction.

    Who cares about newspapers like this? They’re not just out of touch, they’re completely irrelevant.

    We all know that newspapers are a business, and like any business, they exist to make money. They produced a thing that nobody wanted any more. They didn’t listen or respond to their customers. They were making iceboxes in the age of WiFi refrigerators. And we don’t want iceboxes, do we?

  2. Liam Young
    November 11, 2015 at 5:48 pm

    I think PostMedia / Quebecor need to be prepared for some heavy reductions in subscriptions and site traffic given the crash in their credibility. And I don’t think Canadians will have a high level of tolerance for any of them when they come crying for public funds and support when their companies go under.

    Now, what’s the connection between endorsements and government ad spend over the last 10 years? Is it possible that these chains received a disproportionate amount of support?

    Also, note that PostMedia is no longer really a Canadian company. While a squeaker of a majority is held ‘by Canadians’, the vast majority is actually held by US private equity funds. What’s their relationship to the Harper government? At a certain point, are these kind of endorsements (and influence on voting) illegal, according to the Elections Act?

  3. Crikey McGrogor
    November 5, 2015 at 10:53 am

    Interesting __ the paper you read likely does not represent you. They really do have to publish what the owners want, not the editor
    This is wrong – where the media that people trusted are actually spouting their owners propaganda
    Windsor is pretty solid NDP yet the local Star endorsed the conservatives.
    Seems many papers are way out of sync with their readers, just as well they are dying off.

  4. Matt Gray
    November 5, 2015 at 10:52 am

    Grateful for this piece. When the endorsements came out during the week before voting day, I remember feeling quite outraged– absolutley these engines of democracy should rev during an election, but never for a single racer, just the the race itself, I thought. But in the days that followed, I began feel that this view was naive.

    Historically, I was under the impression that newspapers – at least some – begin as political rags touting a single party’s policies and points of view. So, political endorsements fall nicely in line with the moral trajectory of newspaper evolution. And secondly – I’m not exactly sure how to arrange this thought – but it really seems to me that while people read newspapers for information, they also read them for validation; I don’t hear much about that in this discussion of press endorsements.

    For these reasons, and also the questionable trustworthiness of polling, I’m not convinced that newspapers should align with public opinion. I think the debate about media objectivity and endorsements is troubled by mixing up consumers and citizens, and forgetting that while newspapers fill a public service role, they are ultimately businesses driven by profit. Owners can do what they like; consumers can speak with their wallets and take it or leave it.

    I’m left taking refuge in the old saying that you can’t believe everything you read. In the pursuit of truth and objective reporters, newspapers will always be crippled by the leanings of their owners and those of the folks banging out stories and columns. And even if they manage to conquer this inherent hurdle, readers are there to ensure they will ultimately fail.

  1. November 10, 2015 at 8:09 am

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