Weekly Feature

2015-11-04 / Editorial

Memo to all candidates: Lawn signs don’t vote

Managing Editor

Now that the 2015 election season has finally passed into the pages of history, it is worth looking back at some of the tactics employed by candidates and the parties that endorsed them.

I must repeat my disdain for political lawn signs. They clutter the landscape, block the vision of motorists and pollute what otherwise is one of the most beautiful times of the year. Autumn winds often damage these signs or send them down the street into oblivion.

Freedom of speech should not make someone’s lawn look like a comic book.

Signazon, a company outside of Dallas, is one of the countless number of firms advertising their sign-making services. Its sales pitch makes me itchy.

“As you may know, placing political yard signs on the side of the road is not the only way to advertise your campaign and gain a following. We understand that. You can gain even more clout by creating campaign posters, banners, stickers, and more! Make sure you and your name are seen as much as possible to establish recognition in voters. Remember, if voters see you before they see other candidates, you will more likely get the vote,” says Signazon.

Costas Panagopoulos, professor of political science at Fordham University, said in a 2012 NPR interview that yard signs have little effect on elections.

“I think that there are much more fundamental factors that often determine the outcome of elections,” he said.

Panagopoulos was a candidate for the Massachusetts State Legislature in 1992. He said that one of the main preoccupations of the campaign was getting a very “vociferous” street sign and lawn sign campaign up and running. He became fascinated with this aspect of the political process and wanted to study it from a scholarly point of view, to examine its effectiveness.

Kevin Frank, communications director of the Massachusetts Democratic Party during the 2012 campaign, hit the nail on the head.

“There’s a very common saying among political operatives: ‘Lawn signs don’t vote.’ I’m not sure the day ever existed where [yard signs] made a difference for a candidate,” Frank said in an interview published by The Atlantic. “I guess it is about rooting for a candidate like a sports team,” he added. “It’s part of the fun of being civically engaged.”

In Golden, Colorado, the topic has been elevated to U.S. Supreme Court status. A local ordinance allows residents to place an unlimited number of political signs in yards in the 60 days leading up to and five days after an election, an exception made to the year-round limit of two signs per yard. That exception goes against the U.S. Supreme Court decision in the case Reed v. Town of Gilbert, Ariz., which sided with a church pastor, saying a city cannot regulate signs based on their content, according to The Denver Post.

“If our yards are our faces in the neighborhood, political signs are the zits: annoying, ugly and – thank goodness – temporary,” wrote John Campanelli, a reporter for The Plain Dealer in Cleveland. But he also states that yard signs work, especially in the small races that take place in our towns and villages. It is a name recognition factor that does not hold as much weight in statewide or national races, as voters may have already chosen a candidate for whom to vote.

“At their very basic, they give a person a voice in the election, and opportunity to be heard, even if it’s only by drivers shaking their heads,” he added.

Equally disturbing is the lack of concern for how quickly people remove these signs from their property. It should be the responsibility of the parties to pluck them from street corners and empty lots. A couple of days should be sufficient.

Banning yard signs is not in the immediate future in any of our communities, but it should be.

(David F. Sherman is managing editor of Bee Group Newspapers and a columnist for the Weekly Independent Newspapers of Western New York, a group of community newspapers with a combined circulation of 286,500 readers. Opinions expressed here are those of the author. He can be reached at dsherman@beenews.com.)

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