Drive through a neighborhood this October and you’re likely to see a mix of Halloween and political decorations. In a year when people aren’t able to express themselves out in public due to a pandemic, the front yard has become a hot spot for showing people what you stand for.
The big question: in a cluttered world with television, radio, social media and distractions galore, do old-school campaign signs still work?
A political veteran who worked on Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign ahead of the 1992 election thinks so.
Skip Rutherford serves as the Dean of the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service in Little Rock, Arkansas. He’s worked on dozens of campaigns over the years and now teaches classes focusing on political wins and losses throughout American history, among other topics.
Rutherford says signs have the ability to leave an impact.
“When you drive through a neighborhood and see three Trump signs and no Biden signs, you’re left with the impression Trump is going to win,” he said.
And that impression can be even more impactful in a year when people are taking trips in the car to get out of the house.
“We’re in a cluttered world of social media and television. When we get in our car, we’re uncluttered,” Rutherford said. “The clutter is gone but the image is there.”
And as we know, perception can be reality in marketing. Rutherford says yard signs can can “make a difference” and create much-needed momentum for a candidate.
“When they are placed in well traveled areas, people notice them,” he added. “It indicates broad-based community support.”
The last major study on campaign signs found they can provide a small boost to candidates in areas where they place them.
Jonathan Krasno, political science professor at Binghamton University in New York, studied the effectiveness of campaign signs along with other researchers back in 2016.
While Krasno couldn’t find evidence signs impacted voter turnout, it appeared they affected vote share.
“That is, a candidate with a lot of signs did better where they had signs than where they didn’t have signs,” Krasno told the Chicago Tribune about his findings. “The effects weren’t huge, but they were there.”
Krasno seems to confirm Rutherford’s theory that a yard sign can serve as a tangible sign of momentum.
“When one of the candidates puts out a ton of lawn signs, what that tells me is that campaign has a lot going on,” Krasno said. “I don’t know how I’d have known that otherwise.”
Rutherford does admit campaign signs are far more effective for local, lesser-known candidates than the Trumps and Bidens of the world. He says for smaller races name recognition can be everything.
“What yard signs are intended to do is for you to remember your name,” he said.
While the presidential candidates are household names, most Americans couldn’t tell you who is running for city council or school board. The theory among political experts is that people might remember a name they saw on a sign in their neighborhood. And with people staying close to home in 2020, your display could make a difference.
“People are spending more time on their front porch. They’re greeting neighbors. They’re expressing themselves in their yards,” Rutherford added. “A lot of people are just quietly putting signs in their yards.”
Some quitely, some with more prominent flags and banners.
And while you can debate the impact of campaign signs on November 3, there’s one thing we know to be true…
On November 4, they’re likely to vanish.