"I am disgusted by all the campaign signs in [my hometown]."
- How else do you propose people campaign?
"There are other marketing alternatives than signs on the road."
- Signs are the most effective way to get your name out there.
"A sign every 500 feet on the side of the road makes the city look trashy. What happened to public speaking?"
- Not enough people attend public speaking events. The signs are effective and effective campaigns win.
"That's what we need, a truly uninformed populace, swayed only by what someone puts out there on a road sign."
- From a strategist's viewpoint, the signs are effective or they wouldn't have lasted this long. It makes an impression of the candidate and the first impression is important for winning. Candidates run to win.
"The reason [candidates] run is because they believe in a certain platform."
The above (paraphrased) conversation was held on a friend's Facebook wall, with my (also paraphrased) contributions between the bold quotes. I work at a government building and my boss is an elected official. Besides that, I LOVE DEBATE. I was inspired to further research the effectiveness of political campaign signs and how they affect the elections. The question today is:
Are campaign road signs effective and how?
Slate Magazine writes, "It has become fashionable to dismiss the lawn sign as overrated, a vestige of old-style campaigns that may raise spirits but not vote totals." We can very effectively conclude that this is not true. In local elections, lawn signs are irreplaceable as a marketing tool. It is true that large campaigns, such as the race for our esteemed and honorable POTUS, do not benefit very much from campaign signs because many people have already made up his or her mind. Many times, this choice is made based on party association or basic platform statements.
In a local race, though, the signs are effective and important. They are called annoying, irritating, ugly, and even "zits." Even zits make an impression, I say. It's a classically conditioned response of the human, or any animal really, to prefer the familiar to the unfamiliar. You can make a word, phrase, or object more familiar by using the "exposure effect." How does anything become popular? By exposure. Otherwise, why would so many tweens and teens decide to wear UGG boots with teeny, tiny shorts? It's not attractive but the familiarization has made it stylish.
"In smaller races-- for city council, sheriff, school board-- where voters don't know the candidates, signs can tip the scales," Cleveland.com points out in their online article. I would like to add that this is especially true when party affiliations don't matter, like in many local elected positions. Just take a look at our local candidates.
If you're looking at our candidates, you may realize something strange. They are almost ALL Republicans. However, their party affiliation doesn't matter. The Clerk of Court is responsible for scheduling and document filing and scanning and all court records. It's a very important job but does it change whether you are Democrat or Republican? No, it really doesn't. Democrats don't oversee the scanning of documents and confidential court records any differently that a Republican would.
In local elections, signs are a grassroots level of establishing a campaign from the beginning, providing a first impression and providing name recognition. As we discussed, name recognition is highly important in local elections because people are more comfortable with the familiar and the usual. If a devoted constituent has paid attention and listened to the issues for the race of commissioner, sheriff, and clerk but knows nothing about the county tax commissioner position, their vote is going to likely go to the person that is the most familiar. Supposedly, each sign will equal about six votes, despite the argument that "signs don't vote."
To this point, some would argue that this makes for an uninformed base of voters but the fact is that our government structure doesn't reward informed decisions but rather effective campaigning. On the national level, this is why our country's founder's opted for a representative democracy instead of true democracy, so that each person would get an initial say in the popular vote but the electoral college would make the final decision. On the local level, it would be impossible to put together an electoral college for every small election. The popular vote reigns and so the point of campaigning is to gain as much popularity as possible. Does this seem like shallow campaigning on some levels? Yes, it does and, yes, it is. The fact of the matter is that it is effective.
I have and will continue to argue that anyone running for office is running to win. This is true. Despite their care for the "issues," whatever they may be, and despite their own personal agenda, the first goal is to win. You can't promote your cause or take any action unless you are the victor. "To the victor belongs the spoils," right? The first step is to make a good first impression and to get the name of the candidate out there. Signs are irrevocably the most efficient and cost-effective way to make this happen on a large scale.
Another argument launched against campaign signs is that email and online marketing is more cost-effective. I disagree because it's true that not everyone, especially in a rural area, uses the internet. Many people I know that do use the internet use it solely for work or entertainment and not for keeping up with the issues. Word of mouth reigns supreme in my area. Online marketing can be free and fantastic, but you aren't going to reach many voters in the upper age brackets that actually care and will actually vote. Young people are less likely to actually take the time to go vote, while older voters are usually faithful and dependable constituents that will listen to reason and logic to make their decisions. Not every citizen reads articles in the paper, not every citizen will read a brochure, and not every citizen has internet but every single citizen will, at some point, see campaign signs and will form some kind of opinion based on those signs.
In sum, signs matter. Signs are the first impression and are effective in supporting familiarity through name recognition, reminding citizens of the elections, and reaching persons of all ages and socio-economic statuses.