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Political Signs

Political Signs

Political Campaigns with the Use of Signs: Are They Effective?

Political struggle is always tough and competitive, so politicians are always ready to use almost any means to be the first. One of the methods of raising the competitiveness in the political games is using political yard signs. However, there are a number of questions regarding the efficiency of the method.

Do the signs really work in politics? Can a person who looks at the sign change his or her mind about the candidate? Is a sign a valuable asset for the election strategy? Are they worth buying and placing around?

When Political Signs Are Effective

Increase recognition of your name with a sign!
It is a well-known trick of the elected officials to ride in parades, appear on various TV shows, update the Facebook and Twitter accounts, and do hundreds of other things which have nothing to do with law-making and state responsibilities. Have you ever wondered what makes these people do that? Certainly, they want their names to be recognized by everybody. Name recognition and favorable perception are the main factors, and every candidate is willing to do everything possible to make the voters know him or her. However, do the signs help in name recognition?

The study of Cindy Kam and Elizabeth Zechmeister conducted at the Vanderbilt University proves that the effect of signs is significant. The scholars did an experiment placing four signs of large size that promoted Ben Griffin, an imaginary candidate for the school board. The location was chosen on purpose; they placed the signs on the street where 50 percent of parents were driving daily taking their children to school and from school. The results of the survey done three days later showed that the percentage of parents who preferred Ben Griffin as a candidate was 10 % higher among the parents who came to school driving along the street with signs. This enormous difference in Ben Griffin’s favorability among the parents who saw the signs and did not see the signs serves as a proof that it is effective to use signage for building recognition of the names.

Remind the supporters to vote with a sign!

A properly-placed sign can significantly improve the chances of a candidate on Election Day. You cannot make people change their minds at the last minute, but a political sign can remind the voter about a candidate. This strategy was tested by Costa Panagopoulos, a political scientist, who studied New York City municipal elections in 2005to see if there is any increase in the turnout of voters as a result of campaign signs. He identified fourteen districts with similar voter turnout and chose the busiest intersections on seven of the districts to station there volunteers with large signs of white color that have the following phrase written in blue “Vote Tomorrow”. The turnout in those districts where the volunteers worked was 3.6 % higher in comparison with the other seven districts.
This difference of 3 % can have huge effect on the results of the elections. Furthermore, the results of using the signs commensurate with the increase in turnout caused by phone calls, door-to-door contacts, direct mailing and other techniques which require more costs, time, and human resources than signs. So, the voter turnout can be changed by strategically used campaign signage if the signs are placed in the areas with high concentration of supporters of a certain candidate.

Use social cues and yard signs!

The findings of the political science studies show that a person’s preferences in elections are always affected by the opinion of the co-workers, neighbors, friends, and relatives. The social force can be further reinforced by the voting cues in political signage. Thus, it is possible to spread the political information using signs between several people with no political discussion. It can happen that two friends, let’s name them Bill and Tom, discuss everything in the world, except political issues and preferences. When Bill decides to place a yard sign for one of the candidates in the school elections, Tom sees that but they never talk about either the candidates or the sign. However, on the day of elections, Tom comes to the polls and sees a list of unknown names. Choosing an appropriate candidate, he sees the name which he knows from a yard sign of his best friend. Therefore, understanding that Bill supports this candidate, Tom votes for him as well because he trusts his friend.

It often happens that the ballot decisions are made on the basis of information shortcuts. If a voter has no evident preferences and cannot decide who he wants to vote for, he will try to remember anything that he knows about the candidates. Campaign signs cannot be a 100 % guarantee that a candidate will win, but it gives a connection of a candidate’s name to family members and friends. So, signage can be used by the candidates to initiate voting motivation and start personal networks as a powerful tool of promotion.

Use campaign signs to encourage political participation!

Supporters can find a nice way to express themselves politically using effective campaign signs. Thus, they can show their connection to the candidate and voice their views. A yard sign is a powerful aspect of an individual political campaign experience, so a person posts a sign feeling that he takes part in an important process. Besides, the campaign volunteers can directly express their views and show preferences to the neighbors and friends merely placing a yard sign. It is a symbol of free will and diligent work for the political campaign as well as a tangible evidence of the volunteer’s dedication. The street lined up with signs gives an impression of serious accomplishments and full support. Those candidates who are willing to emphasize the involvement of the supporters into the campaign should use the political signs and build their election strategy taking their effect into consideration.

Benefit from the visibility power!

It is interesting to note that the popularity of political signs is the highest in presidential election campaigns. It is a paradox as the efficiency of the signs at that level is the lowest. The visibility of presidential campaigns is huge, and everybody has extensive information about the candidates. All events take place in the public eye, and the voters mostly have their definite preferences. So, it is unlikely that a sign can make any difference at the national level. However, if the decisions are still not made up, and the voters are hesitant about which candidate to choose, a sign can be of huge help. The candidates are mostly unknown to the public at the elections of the local level, such as: city councils, judgeship, school board, major, and other municipal offices. In that case, the impact of political signs on promotion and recognition of the names cannot be overestimated.

Besides, in many localities, municipal offices can rely on the factor of visibility and familiarity of names of the candidates. Voters cannot decide on a relevant person because they possess limited or even no information about the candidates. The increased popularity and recognition that the signs ensure are the valuable benefits for such politicians as a treasurer, state auditor, or attorney general.

When Political Signs Are Not Effective

No technique of political campaigning is perfect. All of them, unfortunately, have their limitations and drawbacks. Political signs also cannot be recommended as an ideal solution for all kinds of situations. First of all, the political strategists note that those people who willingly post signs in their yards not always vote for that particular candidate. The candidate spends money on the sign which does not bring the expected outcomes. Besides, it is challenging to say whether the political signs actually facilitate extending the number of supporters. Those voters who have already made up their minds about the candidates place the signs, but that does not necessarily add to the number of supporters.

It is clear that a political campaign sign cannot be the major factor of the voting results. There is no guarantee that the candidate with the prevailing number of signs will definitely win. The choice of the voters is determined by a large number of factors, including the personal relations with the candidate, adherence to a certain political party, ideology, influence of the relatives and close family, and a lot of others. It is possible to assume that the signs clearly indicate the availability of support, but they cannot be defined as a key tool of changing the decisions of the voters. Besides, it is likely to assume that the expressiveness of the voters is much higher than that of common people.

So, the answer to the question whether a bright and attractive campaign sign is a guarantee that a citizen will change his or her mind and become a supporter of a certain candidate will be ‘No’. However, that does not mean that a sign has no impact at all. It still has a great effect on the chances of the candidate to win, although it is not the most powerful factor which can impact the voting decision of a person. Besides, the impact of signs is crucial in those cases when the election race is very close.

Are signs worth the money spent?

Each campaign manager and political candidate always tries to find the best value for the money. That is why the question regarding the correlation between the price and the outcome is essential. The evaluation of cost-effectiveness of political signs should be done carefully on the basis of the comparison of the money spent on signage and money spent on other kinds of campaigning techniques. Politicians use a number of techniques to persuade the voters to come and show their preferences on the Election Day; they use direct mailing, sending cards, phone calls, door-to-door contacts, and various signs. The study showed that on average the display of there street signs managed to add about 3.6 % to the number of voters who came to the election precinct. Three signs won 29 votes, so the cost of one vote is approximately 1 dollar as 3 large-sized signs cost about 30 dollars. The increase in the cost will be dramatic if it is necessary to pay to the sign-holders. In that case, it will go up to 17 dollars for each vote, and it is one of the cheapest variants of political promotion.

Taking into consideration the cost of other campaigning methods, the cost effectiveness of political signage is indisputable. Increasing the vote share is cheap with political signs, even in comparison wit the technique of direct calls.

Comparison of the Cost Efficiency of Campaigning Techniques


Campaigning technique Cost per vote Cost per vote
Direct mailing $60 per vote
Street signs $1-17 per vote
Direct calls $60 per vote
Door-to-door contacting $20 per vote


Donations and Signs

There is a new tendency in political campaigning nowadays. Politicians send a request to their supporters to make donations to get a yard sign of the chosen candidate. Traditionally, the signs are given out to the people for free; however, during the Obama campaign, a supporter could get a yard sign after a donation of approximately 8 dollars or more. This approach has two sides. On the one hand, it can make the cost of signs lower for the candidate. On the other hand, casual supporters and those who do not want to pay for what they used to get for free can be angry and disappointed. The campaign done in such a way can ensure collection of money and provide the contact information of the purchasers of signs. Therefore, further fundraising activities in the course of the election campaign can be facilitated.


FAQ’s about the Strategy of Using Political Campaign Signs

So, let’s take as granted that political campaigns can benefit from using yard signs as cost-effective and valuable tools. Now, it is time to talk about the strategy of using signs as it is the strategy which brings visible results. So, there will be given the answers to the most common questions related to the sign campaigns.
1. What is an approximate number of signs for one particular campaign?
Keep in mind that every campaign has a definite goal: to maximize visibility and facilitate name recognition. So, to know the number of signs needed for a specific campaign, it is important to take into account the size of the voting territory. The power of the placed signs will be maximized if the number is estimated according to the good rule of thumb. The best option is to place the political signs on the areas of private property and make sure that the actual voters have access to those signs. Do not think that the signs will win new voters over; the main thing is to encourage the people to come and remind them to vote. That is why the best idea is to make the highest concentration of the signs in those areas where the candidate has the highest chances to win.
2. What message should the signs have?
It is important to make sure that a political sign has the full name of the candidate and the name of the political party or office. According to the finance laws of the state campaigning, yard signs are supposed to contain a disclaimer with definite identification of a group of people or a particular person who gives funding for the political sign. It is essential to consult all the state regulations to know the specific requirements to placing political signs in particular states or areas.
3. How can I make the design of my campaign sign effective?
The aim of each sign is to build on recognition of a certain name; therefore, the name in the sign should be clearly seen. Making it stand out, you can achieve visibility and clarity of the message. Most designers recommend making a sign simple but meaningful. It is important to minimize the unnecessary information and use all blank spaces. The fonts, background, and color scheme of the sign should be in perfect match. Besides, the text should be easily read by passers-by and casual observers. There are special professional designers who are knowledgeable in all the aspects of making signs effective, and you can apply for their help to maximize the impact.
4. Is there a specific procedure of distributing the yard signs for my political campaign?
There are a number of strategies to place the signs effectively; however, some ideas seem to be the most appropriate for maximizing the coverage and the effectiveness.
- Voters in focus
The strategists of political campaigns frequently say that it is not the sign that votes, but a person. If one places signs everywhere, it does not guarantee that the voters will choose exactly this candidate as the effectiveness of signs is the highest if it shows actual support of some candidate. Thus, it is recommended to place really many signs in the areas of private property with the owners’ permission. Putting a sign in the window or in the yard, a person invests in the political campaign. A sign fulfills the advertising function as those who see it in the yard of their friends or relatives associate the name of the candidate with the people whose opinion they value and who they respect. The effectiveness of the campaign funds will go up if the focus is on the voter, not on the sign itself.
- Sign blitz on streets with heavy traffic
It happens that the campaigns are limited in resources and case, but it is important to do advertising effectively. Then a good idea is to place a limited number of signs on the streets with many people and cars passing and arrange a so-called sign blitz. The signs will be displayed during a limited period of time, but their impact will be significant.
- Reminders of Election Day
One more technique of using signs effectively is hiring the campaign workers or recruiting volunteers to stand with the signs on the corners of busy streets and remind the passes-by and drivers about the approaching election day. The New York City study found out that the increase in the number of voters made up approximately 3.5 percent of voters after only three signs with the message “Vote Today!” had been held up by the volunteers. This cost-effective technique is beneficial in the areas with heavy traffic and crowds of people who can be the supporters of a certain candidate
- Mobilization of supporters
Placing signs around does not only influence the visibility of a certain candidate; it also makes the volunteers feel the connection to the political campaign. Even if the signs cannot attract any additional supporters, they will do the reinforcement of the support that the candidate already has. When the campaigners recruit volunteers for help, they save the money and time of the staff and involve more people in the political activities.
- Build a strategy
In any course of actions, there should be a definite and clear strategy of distributing the signs. First of all, you should estimate the number of signs to be used in certain districts and areas. For instance, a candidate for mayor is supposed to assume how many signs are needed for the voting precincts in the city. Careful planning ensures that all target voters are reached and they can see the signs with the chosen message.
5. Is it possible to keep the costs down while placing the signs?
It is possible if the planning of the process is done in the right way. The efficiency of signs increases considerably when the campaigns are conducted along busy streets and in front of private spaces and houses, not in public places and areas with few people. Signs can be distributed by volunteers who do that to support their candidate. It will save the costs and motivate people. A good idea is to arrange a sign blitz and get many signs simultaneously to attract the maximum attention of the potential voters. Besides, it is good if the message in the sign is clear and memorable, and the design is simple but cute. Then the people walking or driving by will have a look at the sign and keep it in their minds. Moreover, please note that it is important to mind the disclaimers which have to be placed in the signs (check the state laws). Finally, the signs can be placed only in special places which are legally authorized for that activity. Otherwise, it may happen that the signs will be confiscated, and it will cause you extra expenditure and embarrassment.
There are certain common legal issues and regulations related to placing signs, although there are also specific laws in every state of the country. Do not take our recommendations as an expert legal piece of advice. Only an authorized attorney can give you absolutely verified answers and clarifications regarding the legal aspects of signage. However, you have to be aware at least of some general facts regarding the political campaigning signs as the candidates bear the responsibility for following the laws.
6. Are there any common rules that I should adhere to not to break the law?
In certain states, there are laws which forbid using certain kinds of temporary signs for campaigning or other activities. Such signs may have blinking lights, images imitating the traffic lights or providing directions for travelers. Besides, it is a common legal practice to ban political advertising and campaigning on the day of elections or in the area of a polling station. Moreover, some states adopted the laws which regulate financial aspect of political campaigning and different types of advertising. So, the signs are supposed to have a proper disclaimer and an attribution line to follow the law. This line should contain at least the name of the group or a particular person who gave money to make the sign. We commend you to try your best and comply with the law. Otherwise, the illegality of the sign will distract the voters from a positive message of your campaigning. Save yourself from paying fines, retrieving confiscated signs, fighting back the blaming of the opponents or dealing with the police.
7. What should I do if some of my campaign signs are stolen?
Since it is not cheap to have new signs made for the campaign, the stolen items can be a loss which also involved emotional aspects. However, it should not distract the candidate from further campaigning. Do not forget a memorable example of wrong attitude demonstrated by the candidate for Alabama Agricultural Commissioner Dale Peterson who accused his opponent in stealing his yard signs. He even made an ad which gained big popularity and was widely discusses; however, this notorious fame did not bring success to the candidate. He came only third in the election run. Although there were additional factors which added to the failure, like previous negative background, the accusations related to the signs played a major role. It goes without saying that stealing the signs of the opponents is an immoral and indecent practice which deserves only contempt and disapproval. In such case, the candidates get involved into unethical things, also paying fines and spoiling their reputation.
8. Are there any laws which allow the owners of the houses forbid putting political campaign signs?
The laws are different in different states. In some of them, no community association can make any regulations regarding the campaigning and placing signs, while in other states the limitations and restrictions regarding the timing, quantity, size and design of the signs are possible. However, in case the state has not adopted any law regarding regulation of the signage by a community association, the latter can legally prevent you from placing your signs.
It is natural that the first thing that comes to your mind is the Constitution with strict guarantee of all rights and freedoms, including the freedom of speech. Definitely, according to the First Amendment, you have all the rights to be free in expression; however, that can be done in public settings only. Thus, the state or the city authorities cannot tell you to remove the political signs in the yards; however, the community associations can do that. HOA is a private organization which you have joined voluntarily coming to the community.
9. What are the allowed places for political signs?
Private property is an allowed place for political signs in every state of the US; however, there is a condition that the owner should allow you to do so. Although you should remember that there are several exceptions to the common rule, as it always happens. First of all, regulation of the placed signs can be made by HOA that can even prohibit placing certain signs in the area. Secondly, serous traffic concerns are the reason why the signs should not be placed in the private property located next to the interstate or state highways; thus, in the situations when you are hesitant whether the signs can be placed in a certain location, the best way is to consult the state transportation department. Besides, according to the common rule, the utility poles, road shoulders and medians as well as federal highways and roads are not the allowed places for the political signs. However, the regulations may vary in accordance to the state laws. One more widely-spread regulation about the political signs is that one cannot place them in the areas which adjoin the polling stations on the day of elections.
10. What are the timeframes for the political signs to be legal and effective?
The time restrictions are different for each state, and it is important to study the laws before starting any political campaign. A common restriction in a number of states is that the political signs can be put not earlier than 45 days before the election days and put off not later than 10 days after the elections are over. Time restrictions are upheld in court according to the city ordnances.

Federal Laws on Signage

According to the Federal Highway Beautification Act, placing signs within 660 feet from the Interstate of Federal-Aid Primary system highway is illegal. The only exception is when there is zoning of the area or it is defined as an industrial or commercial area by the state. As for the rural areas, the visibility of the signs from the Primary Highway or the Interstate is forbidden even if the distance is less than 660 feet. The enforcement of this law is done by the state governments very strictly as it is a condition for getting huge amounts of money related to providing highway aid.

One more federal law, known as 2 U.S.C 441d or 11 CFR 110.11, makes it obligatory for the candidates running for President, US House of Representatives, or Senate to place a disclaimer on every kind of campaign signage. This rule applies to the yard signs as well. If the sign is paid for by the official committee of the candidate, there should be a notice: ‘Paid for by XXX’. In case the funding was provided by the group or individual other than the official committee, the notice of the disclaimer should mention the entity that paid for the sign and give a note that there was an authorization of the candidate. In case such authorization of the candidate or the committee is missing, the disclaimed is supposed to mention that along with the phrase that includes the phone number, address, and website of the responsible party. In any case, the disclaimer is a must have of any sign. It should be printed clearly and distinctly in a visible font (at least 12 point) and contained in a box.

Specific Laws on Campaign Signs: State-by-State

Please note that the candidates for President, U.S House of Representatives, and Senate should be guided with the Federal Elections Commission recommendations and requirements. We would also like to encourage every campaigner to do the necessary verification of the laws in a certain state with the authorities. We provide only general facts and raise awareness of the most common rules and guidelines in particular states.
It is illegal to place the signs along the rights-of-way of state highways without the authorization given by the State Department of Transportation. Thus, it is advisable for the campaigners not to choose the state roads as the place for their political signs. According to ALA CODE § 23-1-6, the sights which violate this law will be taken away. A disclaimer of the sign placed in Alabama is supposed to include the details of the group or person who provide sponsorship for the campaign signage. A typical disclaimer will look like that, “Paid for by Tom Owen for City Council.’
In Alaska, different forms of campaigning and yard signs require the identification of a group of a person that is responsible for a campaign on the basis of AS § 15.13.090. It is obligatory to mention the name, address, and note ‘Paid for by’ in a clearly visible disclaimer. According to the law, it is forbidden to place the signs within 200 feel from the polling station entrance on the Election Day when the polls are open. Besides, it is not allowed to place political signage within 660 feet area from the rights-of way. The signs placed on the public property in the prohibited areas are removed without any notifications to the people who placed them, while if the signs are on the private property, the owners get a 30-day notice in writing about the removal. More details can be found in the guidelines of the Department of Transportation regarding political signage placement.
It is obligatory for any campaign sign in Arizona to have a disclaimer with a notice “Paid for by” with clear specifying of the name and committee that is in charge of the sign. In case the production of signs is done by an independent committee, it is necessary to include the phone numbers and names of three key donors and an acknowledgement that there is no authorization from the candidate. According to the regulation ARS 16-1019, no municipalities in Arizona can remove any campaign signs unless they are placed earlier than 60 days before the elections or later than 15 days after the general election is over. The signs cannot be put in the areas where they can interfere with clear vision, violate the requirements of the act for the Americans with disabilities, or threaten the public safety. The law of the state specifies the maximum size of a sign as sixteen square feet in the residential zones and thirty-two square feet for any other territories. It is a must for a sign to have the website, telephone number and the name of the contact person in the campaign committee or the candidate. According to Arizona law, it is a misdemeanor of class 2 when somebody is trying to remove, deface, alter, or cover a sign used for political campaigns.
The state sets specific limitations as for the rights and powers of homeowners associations in restricting the areas for signs. According to ARS 16-33-1808, no political signage can be prohibited. However, the members can be warned against placing signs more than 3 days after elections or earlier than 71 days before the elections. Such associations as well as the municipality can do the regulation of the number of signs and their size provided that there are specific local laws on that. If the local regulations do not exist, HOA may only specify the maximum total square sign footage (9 feet).
The commission on fair political practices in California has a special interpretation of the Political Reform Act which makes it obligatory for a political sign to have a disclaimer with the names of the group, candidate and two key donors with contributions that exceed 50,000 dollars. If the yard signs are sponsored by the campaign of the candidate, only a basic disclaimer is sufficient. In California, the candidates who distribute the signs have to fill in the Statement of Responsibility to acknowledge that they are in charge of all produced temporary political signs for this candidate. According to the regulation of California Department of Transportation, it is not allowed to place political signs within 660 feet from the right-of-way. There are also specific rules for the timeframe of the sign, i.e. signs should not be placed later than 10 days after the election or earlier than 90 days before. The DOT will remove the political signs at the cost of the candidate’s campaign if they are placed in the forbidden zones, put up sooner than 90 days before elections or later than 10 days after.
The state of Delaware has the laws which forbid displaying of the political signs or other political campaign materials within the area of the state right-of-way. In case the candidate violates the law, the signs are removed and the parties in charge are fined with an extra fee for retrieval of the signs. The enforcement is done all the time, and the number of signs removed within a year is approximately 36,000. The election season lasts for 60 days and it is allowed for the candidates to display the signage in certain sections in the state right-of-ways. Signs should not be placed on road shoulders, mediums, and territory within 10 feet from the road shoulder. Delaware requires the availability of a standard disclaimer on the sign and restrict the powers of homeowners associations in regulation of the political advertising and signs. The HOA can offer their guidelines as for the places and time for the political signage; however, they are not allowed to restrict the members of the communities in their right to post their signs.
There are particular requirements to the content of the political campaign signs. According to HRS §11-391, the signage is supposed to mention the address and the name of the group of people or a person who is funding the signs as well as a notice about the sign approval. The fine for misconduct and lack of the necessary information in the sign can go up to 5,000 dollars.
Hawaii has the same rules for political signs as other states in terms of signage placement near federal highways and state rights-of-way. In addition, the state provides for applying the federal laws to the signage placement along the primary and interstate highways. As for the Election Day, political signs cannot be placed within 200 feet from the entrance of the polling station starting from the time one hour before the polling stations open and until their closure.
A peculiar feature of legislature in Illinois is that the political campaign seasons do not end there. Municipalities have no right to interfere with residential property placement of yard signs; however, they still can make restrictions on the size of the placed signs. There is a defined campaign-free zone that is located within 100 feet from the entrance to the polling station. All communication means, including the signage, are supposed to contain the candidate’s name and the name of the entity of political committee that is funding the signage.
In Iowa, it is forbidden to post any campaign signs on the state lands in any local subdivisions, county, or city. The area on which the signs cannot be placed on Election Day is 300 feet from the door of the election station building. The owner of the property always gives permission to have a sign on the territory. It is forbidden to place the signs on public right-of ways, and in case of violation, the signs are confiscated. The signs which are hazardous for the public are removed by the Iowa Department of Transportation immediately at the expense of the owners. There is a complete outdoor signage guide and FAQ’s about the campaign signs which provide all the relevant details regarding the rules and requirements.
According to the laws of Utah, the signs sized less than 4 by 8 feet do not require any identification of the source of funding for the signs. However, there are specific laws regarding sign placement. The Utah Code doe not permit displaying the signs on highway rights-of-way or utility poles. A written notice is given by the relevant highway authority if there is a violation of the rule. It is necessary to pay fines for every day when unauthorized signs remain in the area that does not allow political campaigning. It is prohibited to place the signs within 150 feet from the building of a polling precinct station. Besides, municipalities cannot do regulation of the campaign signage on the areas of private property that are in 150 feet or more from a polling place. The only exception is when the signs interfere with the public safety.

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