Yard signs are (essentially) pointless

I’ve worked on seven political campaigns and if there’s one thing I hate more about them it’s yard signs. Yard signs are a staple in politics, they use them all over the world where democracy exists, and they are almost completely a waste of money.

The idea behind them is that the more yard signs out there the better the candidate’s name recognition. People vote for who they know so they’ll vote the candidate who’s name they’ve seen the most. There are so very many things wrong with this theory.

There are two basic theories of political campaigns, mobilization and persuasion. Mobilization refers to building excitement about candidates which will drive people to the polls in droves. Persuasion refers to talking to swing voters, having deep conversations with them, and persuading someone who wouldn’t normally vote for you to vote for you. The truth is that neither are really all that effective. People vote for their party and while some can be persuaded, the number of swing voters gets smaller every year. Base mobilization isn’t really possible at the state or local level because people don’t pay attention to those races the way they would a presidential race. The president’s job is to mobilize his base to the polls which has down ballot benefits, it’s state and local candidates who need to persuade people to vote for them.

Yard signs accomplish neither persuasion or mobilization, here are three real conversations I had with intelligent friends of mine, with political opinions, who shall remain anonymous.

Me: So you have a 30 minute drive to work every day, there are a ton of yard signs out there, how many names on those yard signs can you name?
Friend: Um, Calum?
Me: Okay, Brian Calley is one. You got half of his last name right. Who is he and what his he running for?
Friend: Senate?
Me: Nope, he’s the Lieutenant Governor and he’s running for Governor. Would you vote for him?
Friend: Democrat or Republican?
Me: Republican
Friend: No

My friend is a good person, but yard signs had no effect. Here’s another conversation.

Me: So we had tons of yard signs on your commute, do you remember seeing (candidate’s name) in Benzie County?
Friend: No…

Here’s one more, I was speaking to a very nice senior citizen who I’ve known for years and I’ve never once heard her utter a swear word.

Me: As a senior citizen do you pay attention to political yard signs?
Friend: **** no.

So that’s three people who I love and respect, I know they all vote and have political viewpoints, and none of them paid any attention to yard signs.

The truth is that yard signs are really a vanity project. Campaigns are hard and candidates like seeing their names out there. Some people like having them out on their lawns because it makes them feel like they’re accomplishing something even though they’re not. Making phone calls, donating to campaigns to run TV ads, and knocking on doors can all make a difference because they’re harder to ignore. Most people are like Hobbits, they’re clueless and just want to eat drink and be merry. Some might be aware of the problems of the world but they don’t really care unless their Shire is threatened. You have to show them that the Shire is threatened in order for them to go on an adventure.

So the title of this article is that yard signs are mostly pointless. That’s true, but here’s my one theory on where they could actually be useful.

People think that yard signs matter and while studies suggest that they can raise voter turnout by 1% (which is statistically irrelevant), they can make volunteers happy and those volunteers might do something useful like knock on doors, text their friends, or make phone calls for you.

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Casey

Amateur political analyst / anti anti-vaxxer / hater of conspiracy theories and the power of crystals. Views are mine and do not reflect those of my employer.