The song went, “sign, sign, everywhere a sign, blockin’ out the scenery breakin’ my mind.”
Welcome to campaign season 2022.
Everywhere you look on the highways, byways, streets, and side-streets are the ubiquitous campaign signs of this year’s mid-term and local elections. They are exactly the same size, supported by the same wire stands, and typically the same height from the ground. Different colors, different names, different fonts, and for different offices.
But the number? Is it just me or are there more this year? Do they multiply in the darkness of night?
It has set me to thinking, how many are really necessary to establish name recognition? Do they have any impact on the electorate?
Depends on who you ask.
Go to politicallawnsigns.com (a site doubtless supported by the printing industry), and you get a hilarious set of questions and formulas based on number of voters, average turnout in the last six elections, all leading to number of signs per likely voter. Wow. Then you take your results and your money to your local printer and go home with exactly the right number of signs.
So, listen up Dixville Notch, New Hampshire, population 4 per the last census. That purchase of 6 signs for your favorite candidate in the last election was off by a factor of 2. If you did the math, you really needed 12. That’s so that your voters could see 4 on the way to the market, 4 on the way to school, and 4 on the way to Uncle Frank’s funeral...no wait. We only have 3 residents now? That changes everything.
Here’s another question. Is it truly name recognition or is it the candidate wanting to see their own name spread all over the district? It takes a certain amount of ego to put your name in the hat, especially these days. While I applaud those willing to serve, we are talking signs here and why so damned many. Whether they mean anything or not, seeing so many must give some level of comfort to the candidate.
There are more scientific studies about the impact of campaign signs conducted by the advertising industry and by political scientists. I am suspicious of the ones conducted by the ad world, but I do believe in political science (see post, I Believe in Science, Political Science). They say that in a very close election signs may have an impact on the margins (as in 1% of the electorate). But any correlation as to number of signs is way too faux science for the poli-sci world to embrace.
One of the things I have noticed in local races this year is that sign placement tells you a great deal about the emotional maturity of your supporters. Take a local race for our NC House where one candidate's supporters have placed their signs so close to and in front of their opponent’s signs as to block your view. Nice, eh? Gonna vote for that candidate?
There is one local sign that stands out. It doesn’t speak for anyone. It speaks against a current incumbent. It artfully uses the term “Dump” to instruct the voter as in “Dump (name)”. It does say something about the average IQ in our city that someone has taken it upon themselves to go around and paste an edit on those signs covering “Dump” with “Vote Out”. The action is in violation of state law regarding defacing or changing a campaign sign, but I think it is a very nice edit.
Then there’s the neighborhood dynamics that go into yard signs. Neighbor A puts out a sign and Neighbor B says, “Alice, I always knew he was a (fill in the blank)”. This is probably one reason for the multiplier effect of signs in residential neighborhoods. WE’VE got to get a sign out there to show that we’re as big a (fill in the blank) as Ralph or that we wouldn’t vote for Ralph’s candidate at the point of a gun. Ooops! Do you remember how quaint an expression “at the point of a gun” was when we were growing up? Makes me sad. Makes me feel old.
My thesis this year is that with the sheer number and crowding of signs they have become a blur, an urban blight, and an unattractive addition to our city. The candidate whose supporters have put 25 signs 10 feet apart down the entire median strip of Glenwood Avenue especially steams me. What, do they think my mental attention span has slipped? Are they saying I don’t pay attention? Well, they’re right and that steams me even more.
If signs had the outcome for which they were designed, I would be more accepting of their proliferation. But, like TV stations raking in the profits from those horrible campaign ads, the happiest souls looking at all those signs are the printers. (Ok, you Ben Franklin fans, it is a respectable profession and necessary in a nation with freedom of speech).
And well, with all the talk about democracy being under attack (never mind we are a republic and not a democracy...just another poli-sci major showing off) it is nice to see this physical sign (no pun intended) of faith in elections and the process of voting. If it gets more people to the polls, it might be worth all the money.
But before I trail off into positivity and stop being an old curmudgeon, I have one final question. On the day after the election will the candidate’s supporters be out there removing the signs, or will they rely on taxpayer dollars to pay city workers to remove them? And if they do remove them, will the plastics be recycled, or will they wind up in the local landfill?
Come to think of it, one of the cool things about campaign signs is that they all have the names of the candidates on them and that little legal tag line, “paid for by...” So, it would not take a genius to know who is ultimately to blame. And it would not take a genius to pass legislation to regulate such post-election litter and require recycling. But wait, we already have regulations on the books to regulate distance from the right-of-way that are routinely violated by members of the same legislature and city council who would have to pass these regs and laws.
Don’t hold your breath.
However, get out there and vote. Please.