How Effective are Political Yard Signs?
Supporters and organizers are always adorning lawns and sidewalks with political yard signs
each year. While there’s plenty of time before the next presidential election, state and local races are fair-game. For candidates who don’t have enough funds to purchase super bowl ad time (i.e. most of them), yard signage can seem like a cost-effective way to drum up some party support.
And rightfully so. Yard signs can be purchased in bulk for discounted pricing. Plus, thanks to their durability, plastic yard signs can last from primary season all the way through to the general election.
But how much influence could these corrugated plastic signs possibly have on an election? The answer is: quite a bit. Read on to discover the reasons why yard signs have become a staple of the political campaign trail.
How did campaigns and businesses start using bandit signs in the first place?
The 1920s embodied a lot of things – swing and jazz music, economic mobility, architectural triumph – but none were more pervasive than the freedom of American car culture. Alan Oddell, the head of Burma-Shave, saw an opening in 1926.
The young business owner placed a few hundred roadside signs
along a rural highway in Minnesota. Their catchy messaging entertained passing motorists (Odell made poems out of his signs, which were then placed as a series), and as a result, their bottom line dramatically soared. For the next forty years, Burma-Shave prospered.
Their signage campaign ended in 1963, but their influence on advertising and campaigning remains immeasurable.
So…why are political yard signs effective then?
1. Opponent psychology is a real thing.
Picture this: as an underdog candidate, you decide to visit the neighborhoods where you are seeking the most support. You walk through a residential area or a suburb, and you discover your opponent’s lawn signs – loads of them. With political signs covering more square patches of grass than you can shake a stick at, you start to doubt your ability to win over key voters.
This is psychological warfare, no doubt – but it can have a considerable effect on the opposition. Soon, advocates will call in to complain that their rival’s political are signs are everywhere. The results might be intangible, but it can wear down a weaker candidate who must portray themselves as a confident leader in public.
2. They can reassure supporters that a campaign is building momentum.
Humans tend to conform or support an opinion held by the apparent majority. Psychologists call this phenomenon normative social influence
, which activates the portion of our brains that seeks acceptance from others.
So, as a block or neighborhood puts up more and more signs featuring a certain candidate, everyone feels a little more empowered and validated that they made the right decision. Remember, this only refers to the apparent majority. So, with some decent yard signage strategy, campaign strategists can take advantage of this effect, and draw out potential support where they otherwise wouldn’t have.
3. Yard signs have the power to affect voter turnout.
In 2005, a randomized field experiment
assigned random voting locations to be treated with street signs that said, Vote Tomorrow. After the election, voter turnout was measured in assigned and unassigned districts.
And voila, turnout was found to be significantly higher in the districts with political signs! While this study may not have proven that yard signage can inform or convince on-the-fence voters, it nevertheless suggests that signage inspires action.
4. Swaying voters seems unlikely with a roadside sign, but there’s evidence to suggest they can.
Scientists have a tendency toward quantifying the effects of everything. While measuring something as abstract and complex as the effect signage can have on an election seems impossible, researchers at Columbia University
did just that.
And what did they find? Bandit signs
on average swing 1.7 percent of the vote.
Now, before you go on about how small that number seems, remember that two of the elections in the last twenty years have been defined by razor-thin margins and electoral recounts. 1.7 percent means millions of people on a national level. Even Alex Coppock, the co-author of the study, expressed shock
at the influence of political signage, recounting the common misconception that they only “preach to the choir.”
5. Plastic signs can increase name recognition and top-of the-mind awareness.
Name recognition may matter less for candidates who get regular coverage on national media, but those running a local or grassroots campaign will need all the extra branding they can get.
Think of people outside of a politician’s ardent fanbase. Publications and news outlets may call them low-information voters, but perhaps a better way to think of these potential supporters as overly-busy voters. They drive to work every day, pick up their kids from school, provide a dinner for the family, and then prepare to do it all over again the next day. The only exposure they may get to a campaign’s political efforts is on the road.
When they do turn up to vote, these undecided voters are inclined to vote for a candidate out of familiarity. It’s called the Mere-exposure effect
, and businesses already take advantage of it with repetitive advertising.
6. They provide something tangible that people can discuss in a public space.
Television ads are a great way to get in front of thousands of people. But they have one problem: people view them within the privacy of their own homes, often alone. As a result, viewers won’t seek reassurance that their opinions are valid, or discuss a candidate’s policies and character.
In a communal space, such as a residential area, lawn signs can inspire conversation or displays of solidarity. These expressions can add to the enthusiasm behind a campaign and bring supporters together.
7. Thousands of people drive by yard signs per day. Few methods surpass them in sheer exposure.
Of course, the number of impressions you’ll receive from a roadside sign will vary based on geographic location, placement, design, and sizing, but one thing is certain: no sign will go unnoticed. A sign that costs anywhere from two to five dollars will receive many times that amount in exposure, which results in a rock-bottom CPM (cost per mille).
For more professional tips and tricks involving political campaign signs, you can rely on the experts at Image360 Littleton.
“How else can I get political campaign signs to work for me?” you ask. Find out with an expert site assessment courtesy of Image360 Littleton. We have an array of Roadside Signs
for all applications and budgets. And if you’re looking for a low-cost solution to your campaign, we offer Bulk Yard Signs
. We invite you to learn more about what Image360 Littleton can do for you. To get started, contact us today.