Are pint-size political billboards worth the paper they’re printed on? I’m thinking no.
“I love watching people waste their money on signs. It’s great. Keep spending your money that way. What do you learn from a sign? What does a sign tell you?” Democratic consultant Judy Stern says in a Sun Sentinel story. “Signs don’t vote.”
But popular wisdom says that name recognition, especially in local races, is valuable. When you’re voting for a bunch of folks you’ve never heard of for city council, it helps if you’ve seen one candidate’s name around town.
“You don’t even really think about it,” says Marietta College psychology professor Mark Sibicky in The Plain Dealer. “It’s a classically conditioned response. All things being equal, we like the familiar name.”
Another report backs up the name recognition theory and suggests it also has more to do with the person putting up the sign. They say each sign is worth 6-10 votes, not because of the sign, but because the person putting up the sign is likely to encourage votes in other ways.
But knowing who’s running doesn’t help you make an informed decision. In national elections that name recognition is kind of useless. No one puts a Romney sign in their yard to make sure their neighbors have heard of him.
It seems like the problem is that political yard signs generally don’t communicate a message. It’s simply a name. All they’re getting is awareness. It doesn’t communicate your reasons for voting. It doesn’t contain any message that could persuade other voters. It’s merely a badge of pride, a flag of identification, letting people know where you stand. At best, it gives people the illusion of popularity (“There are bunch of Joe Jones sign in my neighborhood, I bet he’s going to win!”).
That works for U.S. Representative Dennis Kucinich: “This is better than a paid billboard, because it’s a personal endorsement. It shows that I have support at the neighborhood level.”
I wonder why candidates don’t put any slogans or messages on their yard signs? I’ll admit you couldn’t fit much of a message on any yard sign and it’d come down to bumper sticker slogans, which might not be any better (why don’t campaign bumper stickers have, um, bumper sticker slogans?). But wouldn’t that at least communicate something? According to the experts, that’s a rookie mistake. According to sign printer Dale Fellows in The Plain Dealer, political signs should feature the candidate’s name as big as possible. The fewer words the better.
Bah. I wish signs actually communicated something.
On the plus side, it’s likely they’re not a decisive factor: “Well, I think that it would be very unusual if any of these tactics actually were decisive in elections,” says Costas Panagopoulos, professor of political science at Fordham University in an NPR story. Well, not usually: “But at the margins, mobilizing voters can be very important. And particularly in close, competitive races, they can make a difference in determining the outcome of an election.”
I guess election marketing just sucks.