Geography of Newspaper Endorsements in the 2008 US Presidential Election

A visualization experiments on interconnecting datasets:

newspaper endorsement map screenshot 470 Geography of Newspaper Endorsements in the 2008 US Presidential ElectionGeography of Newspaper Endorsements in the 2008 US Presidential Election

Apart from the unsurprising evidence that (choose one: [[Obama is the overwhelming choice]] -OR- [[there is overwhelming liberal media bias]]), I’m struck by the mismatch between papers’ endorsements and their “Red State” vs “Blue State” alignment.

  • I think the amount of red in the blue states is a market effect. If you’re the Boston Herald, there’s no percentage in agreeing with the Boston Globe; similarly Daily News vs New York Post, SF Examiner vs SF Chronicle. That’s why the Tribune endorsement, even accounting for hometown bias, is so striking. I don’t mean that they’re cynically pandering; rather that in a market with multiple papers readers, and journalists are efficiently sorted into two separate camps. (And the axis doesn’t have to be political: though the Chronic and the Statesman are politically distinct I see their main difference being lifestyle vs. traditional news).
  • The amount of blue in the red states highlights how foolishly incomplete the “Red State/Blue State” model is for anything but electoral college returns. The largest part of the Red/Blue split is Rural/Urban — look at the electoral cartogram for the last election and almost every city is blue, even in the south and mountain; and almost all of our rural areal is red. The exceptions, chiefly Dallas, Houston and Boise, stand noticeably alone as having red unpaired with blue. (Though in this election even the Houston Chronicle is endorsing Obama.)I’m going to try to make a map colored by county, but there are no good off-the-shelf tools for doing this (that I’ve found).

This seems to speak of why so many on the right feel there’s a MSM bias — 50% of the country is urban, 50% rural, but newspapers are located exclusively in urban areas [see below]. So, surprisingly, the major right-leaning papers are all located in parts of the country we consider highly leftish. The urban areas that are the largest are thus both the most liberal and the most likely to have a sizeable conservative target audience.

[– Edit: Several people have asked me to justify my claim that the US is “50% urban, 50% rural”. I should have been more specific about that, because I’m using the terms loosely.

Here is a nice rule-of-thumb table:

Rank City, State            Population   Fraction of
                             (approx)   US population
     United States       ~ 300 million       all
1    New York, NY        ~  19 million     ~ 1/16
10   Boston, MA          ~   5 million     ~ 1/4
50   Rochester, NY       ~   1 million     ~ 1/2
100  Daytona Beach, FL   ~ 500 thousand    ~ 2/3
200  Rockford, TX        ~ 200 thousand    ~ 3/4
363  Carson City, NV     ~  90 thousand    ~ 82%

These are, of course, rough figures (though their mostly-coincidental values line up extremely well). I put the spreadsheet I used over here, and I’ll have all this up on later this week.

About 50% of the population lives within the boundaries of the top-50 metro areas, cities with 1M or more of population. Metropolitan areas are tautologically Urban, but at right about #50 you go from cities like Memphis and Salt Lake City to cities like Bethlehem/Allentown PA and Fresno, CA and Tulsa, OK. Wherever you draw the line between big and small city, life in an out-of-the-top-50ish metro area has a different flavor than life in a top-50ish metro.

I’m working on a separate post showing that political preference is part of that flavor, and that the political transition occurs near that boundary as well.

Finally, numbers supporting the claim that major newspapers are located almost exclusively in large cities:

  • All of the top-25 papers by circulation are in cities of 2M (Sacramento) or larger.
  • All of the top-50 papers are in cities of 1.2M (Oklahoma City) or larger.
  • Only 20% of the top-100 papers are in cities smaller than 1M.
NoBigNewspapersInSmallTowns Geography of Newspaper Endorsements in the 2008 US Presidential Election

The preponderance of newspapers are located in major metropolitan areas -- click for larger version.


  1. kate October 27, 2008 at 3:19 pm

    The New Orleans Times-Picayune endorsed Obama in yesterday’s paper:

    They endorsed Bush in ’04.

  2. Heather October 27, 2008 at 3:01 pm
  3. Rich October 27, 2008 at 8:48 am

    San Mateo, CA is in the SF Bay Area (just south of SF), not in the LA area. Probably confused with San Marino by whomever created the map.

  4. Alexa October 26, 2008 at 7:58 pm

    The Baltimore Sun endorses Obama. ‘Bout time.,0,725660.story

    Is there a handy zoom tool that I’m missing? The map is crazy crowded in spots.

    Thanks again!

  5. MarkJ October 26, 2008 at 4:36 pm

    Interesting, but here’s my question:

    By 2012, given current economic and industry trends, how many of the newspapers listed will have merged with other papers, will just be barely hanging on, or have completely folded?

    Here’s my prognostication: a lot more than you’d think. In sum, I suspect the Dinosaur Media is too afraid to look up, because, if it did, it knows it would see the asteroid streaking in.”

    New version of an old joke:

    “Say, friend, who will the New York Times endorse for President in 2012?”

    “Your question is irrelevant, old man, because there will be no New York Times in 2012.”

  6. Fernando Enrique Ziegler October 26, 2008 at 4:05 pm

    Anchorage Daily News endorses Obama.

  7. Pingback: A qué candidato apoyan los medios de EEUU | Sicrono

  8. mrflip October 26, 2008 at 11:13 am

    @Alexa — hilarious… I have another fun infographic coming expanding on this point.

    @Jeff, @Ed — thanks! There are a heap of others coming down the pipe:
    I am going to spend the day at my favorite candidate’s vol. office, so I probably won’t update the map until E&P releases their full list on Monday.

    @Jane — I can’t find the Deseret News’ endorsement. Linkplz?

  9. Jeff October 26, 2008 at 8:28 am

    Don’t forget to add the Anchorage Daily News’ endorsement of Obama:

  10. Jane October 26, 2008 at 5:48 am

    What about the Deseret News in Salt Lake City, Utah? I was as surprised as anyone when the Tribune went with Obama–but there is a more conservative paper in SLC to offset.

  11. Ed October 26, 2008 at 1:57 am

    Minnesota’s paper’s are endorsing…

  12. Alexa October 26, 2008 at 1:10 am

    Thanks so much for this – definitely makes the info way more accessible, as noted by another commenter.

    Re your ‘market effect’ comment concerning red papers in blue states: totally on target as least as far as the Baltimore Examiner goes. The paper came to be solely to cater to what it considered an under-served market of affluent and relatively conservative households in the Baltimore area.

    Also, the circulation number is a sore point for many Baltimoreans (or Baltimorons, wev). The paper is free, and automatically delivered to homes in wealthier zip codes. It is such a pain to get them to stop delivering, in fact, that some households have taken to using little “No to the Examiner!” lawn signs to deter the delivery person.

  13. mrflip October 25, 2008 at 10:49 pm

    @Mary – This is actually due to the map program. Because of the map projection used there’s some lateral error in the center of the country, where lies four of the five states I’ve never visited. I’ve tweaked the projection, hopefully without messing anything else up, to make Fargo, Omaha and KC line up right. Thanks!

  14. Mary October 25, 2008 at 6:18 pm

    One of your “mismatches” is due to your map being wrong. The Fargo Forum (red) is located in North Dakota (red…although possibly turning blue at this point in time), not Minnesota (blue).

  15. MATTHEW ROSE October 25, 2008 at 2:06 pm

    I suppose we’re waiting for #2, the Wall Street Journal, to come out for John McCain/Snowbilly Palin and then perhaps you could graph the language of the editorial endorsements. That would be interesting. See how many use the word “terrorism” and “Bush” and “tax cuts” and “William Ayers.” What’s more interesting to me are the smaller, red states with Obama endorsements. I suppose the NY Post (a Murdoch property) isn’t a surprise, but New Yorkers are very much for an Obama presidency.

    Are TV stations also going to issue endorsements? Could also provide an interesting tracking interactive.

    MR / Paris, France

  16. Pingback: [graphic] Interactive geographical map of newspaper endorsements : Writes Like She Talks

  17. Jill October 25, 2008 at 6:41 am

    You have totally fed my obsession w/newspaper endorsements!! THANK YOU. :)

  18. mrflip October 24, 2008 at 3:13 pm

    @jason Good catch. They changed the notation for ‘none’ from ‘N/A’ to ‘N’ and then the parser frammis ran up against the jimjam straightener and … yeah. It’s fixed now.

  19. james October 24, 2008 at 3:10 pm

    That is an amazing amount of information and presented in a terrific format.

    Thank you very much for the time and effort you put into this.

    IMO, McCain has run such a terrible campaign that I am sincerely surpised that no one is accusing him of deliberately trying to loose.

    Short of deciding not to pick his nose in public (that photo after the last debate was close to being as ridiculous though), every other decision he has made seems to have been a deliberate attempt to sabotage his own campaign. Amazing.


  20. Jason October 24, 2008 at 2:19 pm

    Nice, nice map — I like the visualization of the data this way, it’s *much* more accessible.

    One question: you list eight newspapers in the “2008 McCain endorsement, 2004 Kerry endorsement” list, but only four of them appear to have endorsed Kerry in 2004. The DC Examiner, Baltimore Examiner, Wichita Falls Times Record News, and Chambersburg Public Opinion are all in your list with “(none)” for their 2004 endorsements, and the E&P list agrees with this. Shouldn’t they be moved into the “2008 McCain, 2004 Bush or none” list?

  21. mrflip October 24, 2008 at 1:38 pm

    I should have been more specific about that, because I’m using the term loosely. I’m referring to the easy-to-remember stat that about 50% of the population lives within the boundaries of the top-50 metro areas (which is right around the 1M population mark):

    All of the Metropolitan areas are tautologically Urban, but at right about #50 you go from cities like Austin and Richmond and Salt Lake City to cities like Bethlehem/Allentown PA and Fresno, CA and Tulsa, OK.

    I see a subjective but clear cultural demarcation between the cities well below that #50 (50%, 1M pop) line from those above. Agree? Disagree?


    I will make a better case for the second claim — brb with a listing of top-100-papers-by-circulation vs. population-rank-of-metro-area.

  22. josh October 24, 2008 at 1:30 pm

    The map is fantastic, but I wonder about your conclusion about “50% of the country is urban, 50% rural, but newspapers are located exclusively in urban areas.”

    I’m fairly certain that this isn’t necessarily true. Maybe the first part is true given a strict definition of “urban” and “rural” and the second part is true for your inclusion criteria (“newspapers tracked by editor & publisher”), but I think that this assertion needs clarification.

  23. John Forrest Tomlinson October 24, 2008 at 1:16 pm

    “50% of the country is urban, 50% rural”

    What does this mean? By population, 80% of the the US is urban or nearby suburban. 20% is rural.

  24. Felix October 24, 2008 at 1:16 pm
  25. David Ramos October 24, 2008 at 1:14 pm

    Half of the country is urban, and half rural? Not in terms of land – that skews far toward rural areas – and not in terms of population. Most Americans live in urban areas.

    The 2000 Census put 80.3% of the US population in cities and suburbs.