It’s endorsement season in America. Perhaps unsurprisingly, given his commanding poll lead, Obama has to date matched his favour with wavering voters with a knack for tempting skeptical editors. The running tally shows the Democrat ahead 179 – 60 in major editorial endorsements. This is interesting, for a number of reasons. Such liberal bias is relatively recent. A reliable source told me a while back that until Bill Clinton, LBJ in 1964 (in the aftermath of an assassination) was the only postwar Democrat to gain more endorsements than his Republican opponent. This changed with Kerry. Now Obama has a handy lead. Such a situation makes the decision of right-leaning publications more intriguing. Some are predictable. Few can have been surprised by last week’s lengthy Obama hagiography in the New Yorker; it also would be a stretch to describe the Guardian‘s endorsement as coveted. Others are more interesting. The Financial Times for instance, sometimes a swing endorsement, came out for Obama.
Were Prospect to endorse candidates, ours would clearly be hotly anticipated. Our studious neutrality in such matters, however, means the The Economist is perhaps the most interesting decision. The magazine—socially and economically liberal—would like to endorse a socially-liberal republican. It would probably have liked the 2000-era McCain, but instead gave a hearty endorsement to Governor Bush. It has recently run a fairly tough editorial line on Obama, criticising his positions on trade and the economy in particular. And its editor, John Micklethwaite, wrote a (very good) book in which he predicted the long-term ascendency of American conservatives, a notion which has perhaps been slightly undercut by the recent implosion of that movement. The decision is one which I have a small insight into, as a former Economist intern. Under the previous editor, Bill Emmott, a poll was taken of the Economist‘s hundred or so editorial staff. (In 2004 this was said to overwhelmingly favour Kerry.) This informed the decision, but ultimately the choice was for the editor alone. In 2004, in a rather woosterish editorial, Emmott sided with his staff and went grumpily for Kerry. What of this year? Obama’s lead, his self-evidently superior candidacy, and the need for newspapers to side with a winner, give three strong reasons to suspects an Obama nod. I’d be surprised if they don’t. Nonetheless, the Economist’s political staff tends to be more right-wing than its ordinary writers, its editor is a thoughtful, principled centrist conservative, and the magazine has traditionally taken a hawkish, McCain-ish foreign policy line on Iraq and Iran. Perhaps there is room for a very minor October surprise after all.
UPDATE: reliable sources tells me that the decision is made; in news unlikely to much bother the swing voters of rural ohio, the editor announced to his staff meeting this morning that Obama will, this Thursday, be able to count The Economist among his official backers. With back to back endorsements for Kerry and Obama, perhaps we should see it as a Democrat-leaning newspaper after all?.