Four Ways Yard Signs Help Candidates Secure Victory
By Steve Grubbs
Sometimes I hear political consultants deride the use of yard signs as an effective campaign tool. “Yard signs can’t vote,” you may hear them say. Uhhh, okay, thanks for enlightening us.
As a former candidate, state party chairman and consultant to more than 500 campaigns, I know yard signs can play a key role in a political campaign, especially for those that may not run television or digital ads.
If you are involved in a local race - or even a statewide race - here are four ways that yard signs can help candidates over the finish line:
Build name identification. In the hierarchy of winning a campaign, the ground floor is name ID. It leads to fundraising, volunteers and ultimately, an edge with undecided voters. It’s true that if you have a million dollar budget, most of your name ID is going to come from paid advertising, but for the 95% of campaigns with limited budgets, it must be earned in other ways.
In my first campaign, I was a big underdog: 24 years old and running against an incumbent with a 14% deficit in party registration! Early on, I knew I had to establish myself as a competitive candidate. Contributors, party leaders and volunteers needed to believe I could compete. So, I blanketed my district in yard signs. Everywhere a car turned there was another yard sign. People came to know my name fast and party leaders realized I was a campaign to be reckoned with. Ultimately, it led to major fundraising and support from the state party. And election night? We won by 51 votes - about ½ of 1%. Whew!
Preseason for Volunteers. A strong campaign will have an effective volunteer team working turnout the month leading up to the election. Too many campaigns will not have effectively recruited or deployed volunteers until late and that can lead to problems. But getting yard signs up 90 days before an election is like a football team playing a preseason game: it helps a campaign to learn who the doers are and who are the most effective. This is invaluable knowledge! A business might spend years figuring out who the best employees are and getting them into the right leadership positions. Campaigns don’t have that luxury.
A strong yard sign effort forces a campaign team to a) recruit volunteers, b) organize them into teams, c) deploy them into the field and d) evaluate who was effective. With this knowledge, it’s easy to redeploy the team for a strong voter turnout effort once election days comes around.
Deliver a persuasive message. Most candidates use yard signs strictly to built their name ID, but this is a mistake. Yard signs can be the single most cost effective way to deliver a persuasive message focused on an issue. Think about it this way: a busy road running through a city will get 15,000 - 30,000 drive bys per day. Let’s call it 20,000 for this example. If you have a yard sign on that road, you will get exposure to 200,000 sets of eyes over 10 days...600,000 per month. Keep in mind, if that’s a 4x8 yard sign you likely paid less than $100 for it. Over the course of 3 months, 1.8 million views.
Now, that’s a good way to build name ID, but what if you used it for a persuasive message. I recall a campaign where the incumbent was against the state lottery, an issue that was very popular with voters. The challenger won by simply adding to the top of all his yard signs, “Yes to Lottery”. I also had a challenger candidate I worked with who did a series of messages about state government debt. We printed yard signs that had an anvil over the heads of children with the words, ‘Government Debt’ on it. Everyone noticed the signs and they knew this candidate was definitely against voting for more debt...and he won.
Persuade Undecided Voters. Let’s face it, even the most educated among us occasionally looks at a race and is unfamiliar with the names of the candidates. I pride myself on knowing the candidates, but sometimes the local soil commissioner gets me. So, how do I vote in those situations? Well, I do what most people do..I look at the names and try to recall if I have a positive impression of one or the other...or maybe if I simply have heard of the person. If I have seen a yard sign in a friendly neighbor’s yard, that’s enough in those instances to push me to make a decision. Should I know the candidates running for soil commissioner? Maybe. Will I always know the candidates? Realistically, no.
Now think about all those people who just barely follow politics but still fulfill their civic duty to vote: they may have an understanding of the candidates at the top of the ticket, but get below Governor or Congress and things are starting to get fuzzy. This is where yard signs can play a role. One university study shows that yard signs drive name ID and also influence votes. The study showed that yard signs can account for up to 2% additional votes. That may not sound like a lot, but there are many close races that are determined by a couple points. I also believe that the further down the ballot your campaign appears, the greater impact yard signs can have.
Steve Grubbs is a former state representative from the State of Iowa as well as a state party chairman. He has worked on six presidential campaigns, of which five were leadership roles. He is the founder of VictoryStore.com, America’s leading campaign supply store.