The New York Times will no doubt endorse the reelection of Barack Obama in 2012. Not since Eisenhower has the paper endorsed a Republican.
However, the strict blue-line partisanship that led to endorsements of candidates of the ilk of George McGovern and Walter Mondale hasn’t always been so. The paper made its first recommendation in 1860 in support of Abraham Lincoln. Not until the 1884 race that pitted Grover Cleveland vs. James Blaine did the Times support a Democrat. But in the 32 elections from 1884-2008, the newspaper has supported 25 Democrats, 6 Republicans, and one third-party candidate.
After endorsing Cleveland thrice, in 1896 the paper endorsed a third party candidate, and followed up with support for McKinley’s 1900 reelection bid.
The Times appears to have held a grudge against Theodore Roosevelt. In 1904, they endorsed his opponent Alton Parker, who went on to suffer a landslide. In 1908, the paper endorsed William Howard Taft (R), while taking a shot at Roosevelt, saying of Taft: “He is less impulsive than Mr. Roosevelt, not given to disturbing utterance, averse to…ill-judged display.” Then, in 1912, the paper endorsed Woodrow Wilson.
Since 1912, a period which covers 26 elections, the New York Times has endorsed 21 Democrats, soon to be 22. The only exceptions came in 1940, and from 1948-1956. From 1920-28, the paper endorsed three Democrats who each got clobbered: John Cox in 1920, John Davis in 1924, and Al Smith in 1928.
In 1940, rather than supporting an unprecedented third term for Franklin Roosevelt, the paper endorsed Wendell Willkie, a former Democrat. Among their reasons was Roosevelt’s “reckless” and irresponsible fiscal policy.
In 1944, the editors returned to FDR, but switched in 1948 to Thomas Dewey (who had also run vs. FDR in 1944). They followed this by twice shunning Adlai Stevenson in favor of Dwight Eisenhower.
The more recent stretch of hard-line Democratic support began with Kennedy, continuing with a somewhat-reluctant endorsement of Lyndon Johnson in 1964 (criticizing both campaigns as “inadequate” in discussing the issues of the day), followed by endorsements of Hubert Humphrey and George McGovern in 1968 and 1972. The Times continued with consecutive endorsements of Carter, followed by Mondale, Dukakis, Clinton twice, Gore, Kerry, and Obama. Overall, that’s 13 in a row going on 14, if you’re counting.
Finding itself at fierce odds with the presidential electorate from 1972-1988, the newspaper preferred candidates who received a total of 487 electoral votes in that time span. More than half those votes came from Carter’s 297 after the 1976 campaign. Meanwhile, candidates opposed by the Times ended up with 2,200 electoral votes over the course of the five elections. Excepting 1976, Times candidates got walloped by a combined 1,960 to 190. Of course, as presidential politics have trended more recently towards Democrats, and congressional politics toward Republicans, the track record of NYT-approved presidential candidates has improved from 1992 to the present.
Meanwhile, only twice has the New York Times endorsed a losing Republican. This occurred in 1940 and 1948. From 1860-1880, the paper only endorsed Republicans, but only Republicans won. From 1884-1936, they only endorsed two Republicans, both of whom won. Their second and last fit of Republicanism (four out of five from 1940-1956) produced the two losers noted above, and then Eisenhower’s winning candidacies.
Ever since, it’s been the Democrat, win or lose. But it hasn’t always.