Wichita State News

WSU PODCAST: Why political yard signs matter

Monday, October 13, 2008

This WSU Newsline Podcast is available at www.wichita.edu/newslinepodcast. See transcript below.

You're listening to the podcast edition of the Wichita State University audio newsline. Learn more about WSU — the home of Thinkers, Doers, Movers and Shockers — on the Web at wichita.edu.
It's the season for all the autumn colors: brown, orange, yellow, and red, white and blue — as in political yard signs. Wichita State University political scientist Mel Kahn says that, at the grassroots level, political yard signs establish name recognition. Of course, not everyone is wild about putting them in their yard.
Kahn: "Most people don't want them, but the basic reason is you're either a relative or a good friend of a person, or you're strongly oriented toward your party and you want to help that person out."
Political yard signs provide name recognition and more, according to Kahn.
Kahn: "Basically candidates are aware, or should be aware, that people don't vote for persons whose name they do not know. And so it's a way, at the grassroots level, of establishing name recognition.

"They don't actually produce voting a certain way. What they do is enable the first element to be reached, of getting candidates known. And they particularly work if they're strategically placed, so that there are many that are together, so you get a bam, bam approach."
Kahn shares an example of how political yard signs made an impact in one campaign.
Kahn: "A local candidate for the Legislature was quite successful, by the name of Sandy Duncan. And Mt. Vernon Avenue bisected his district, and all up and down Mt. Vernon Avenue, you would see signs, one after another, and people had to go down that roadway in order to turn into their side streets, and they couldn't miss it. And it just made a tremendous impact, particularly when you came over the hilly areas on that thoroughfare."
Not all political yard signs are created equal. Some, quite frankly, are better than others, as Kahn explains.
Kahn: "What makes a good sign is uniqueness. For example, research has shown that capital letters do not have a good impact, unless it's the initial letter of a word. Italics are much more effective. Also, if the sign is not too crowded; too many candidates put too much on the sign. The main thing is to get their last name out there very large."
So what makes an ineffective political yard sign? Kahn explains.
Kahn: "Ugliness, wilting in the rain; that's why many candidates now use plastic signs that are water repellant. And signs that, you know, that get blown over very easily, that are put in by wood instead of by rebar, for example."
Creativity or gimmicks can sometimes go a long way in helping a sign be noticed.
Kahn: "Moving signs in the latter days of the campaign will make them more noticeable. Tying ribbons on them that will float in the wind also call more attention. There are all kinds of gimmicks that can be used like that."
Kahn says the shape of the sign is another factor that can make a difference.
Kahn: "Another factor which candidates seldom do is to have a nontraditional shape to the sign. For example, Ken Groteweil, a legislator, used to use signs that are more vertically rectangular than rectangular from side to side. And that was a different sign that would call attention."
Contrasting colors also can help a sign be noticed.
Kahn: "It's very important to have contrasting colors in order to highlight the sign. It's also important not to have colors that everybody else uses. For example, in many elections in Wichita, a lot of people like to use the Wichita State colors, but there are so many of them out there, they sort of blend together, and so they're ineffective.

"One unique thing occurred when Richard Nixon ran for president the first time. He actually had a group of psychologists do research, and they came up with the conclusion that orange and the black were the best contrasts to use and to call attention. On the other hand, they also realized that when they appeared within a couple days of Halloween either way, they became sort of a joke, and so they would pull the signs then and put in other colors temporarily."
According to The Measurement Standard Web site, if you've ever wondered what the effectiveness of political yard signs is, supposedly every lawn sign represents six votes for the candidate. Or maybe 10 votes, depending on what you read. And there's a theory in political circles that if you can get someone to put out a lawn sign, then that person is committed enough to not just vote for you, but also to encourage his or her friends to vote for you as well. So, each additional lawn sign means more than just one more vote, it means more of something even more valuable and a lot more difficult to pin down: more loyalty and commitment, or what is also called engagement.
Thanks for listening. Until next time, this is Joe Kleinsasser for Wichita State University.

Created on Monday, October 13, 2008; Last modified on Wednesday, November 19, 2008