Project Wonderful

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Researchers Study: Do Yard Signs Vote?

It's no secret that the local activist and candidate obsession over yardsigns is the bane of any good organizer's existence.
How many times have you banged your head against a desk after a potential volunteer refused to make calls or knock doors but offered, as if it were a consolation prize, "I'll take a yard sign!" This phenomenon has led to the campaign adage "Yard signs don't vote."

As this article on the efficacy of yardsigns
points out, "Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign charged supporters for lawn signs, registering the income as contributions, which helped the campaign bolster its number of small donors and to gather personal information on its supporters." That's one way to do it.

Slate also reports that "Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s re-election effort decided not to print the signs at all and felt empowered to cut back on its field offices around the state after concluding that the facilities existed for little purpose but distributing the signs." Wow, just wow, Rick Perry. How did that work out for you? Saying a field office is little more than a yard sign distribution center is like calling a bank a company that provides free pens.

You can imagine my alarm when I saw this article on a facebook friend's wall along with the comment "Yard signs do vote."
What the WHAT? I had to read more. Thankfully for my abilities of cognitive dissonance, that's not quite the argument being made. The article describes three experiments done with yard signs. In the first researchers "matched 14 pairs of Manhattan voting locations with similar turnout levels in previous elections. In each pair, he randomly designated one location as a control and the other as an experimental treatment: a small group of volunteers stood...on election eve with white 2-foot -by-3-foot signs with “VOTE TOMORROW” written in blue. Once the polls had closed,... [they]...found that the ones visited by his sign-wavers had 37 percent turnout, nearly four points higher than those that didn’t." No surprise there. One of the basic tenets of field is that a simple reminder will make people markedly more likely to vote.

In the second study researches found that "the act of putting a sign in a window seems as contagious as leaving one of its panes broken: Those whose neighbors had signs were more likely to have one themselves, regardless of whether they supported the same party or different ones." Again, no surprise. We've all heard volunteers practically beg for a sign to display because "McCain signs are taking over the neighborhood!"

Finally, and my favorite, in 2006 an Auburn University cultural economist found that "Households that displayed either an American flag, football insignia, or campaign sign were 2.4 times more likely to have a resident who voted in the elections than houses which had none of the three. While campaign signs were the most strongly predictive of having cast a vote, just sporting an American flag made a household twice as likely to have a voter, and even Auburn football gear made it 1.6 times more likely." This study goes to show that concluding a causal relationship between yard signs and voting is a case of the tail wagging the dog. Rather, people who are more engaged in their community and more passionate about expressing themselves are also more likely to vote.

In conclusion, yard signs don't vote, but sometimes voters display yard signs
.*Satisfied Sigh* All is right with the world.


  1. Political campaigns and backyard signs go hand-in-hand. In agreement of cost-per-exposure, it's difficult to acquisition a more-effective way to advance your political attack than to use backyard signage.

    Yard Signs

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.