Campaigns embrace tradition of political yard signs
In a world where Twitter and Facebook often dominate political discourse, 2-by-3-foot yard signs are hardly a sign of the times. But when it comes to local elections, those roadside placards rule.
As the primary campaign season heats up in anticipation of May 21 balloting, they are as much an indicator of spring as dandelions.
Although several studies question the signs sway even 2% of voters, campaigns continue to post them.
“The emphasis is on size and color now, but absolutely they are doing more of it,” said political scientist Joseph DiSarro.
The Washington & Jefferson College professor said campaigns that once confined their signs to highway intersections and neighborhood yards are asking businesses that may support a candidate to also post them.
DiSarro said signs for D Raja and Pam Iovino literally lined streets in Allegheny County’s southern suburbs in the days leading up to the April 2 special election in the 37th state senatorial district, when Democrat Iovino’s red, white and blue signs ruled the day.
“Name recognition is big. When you go down ballot to the local races, you’ll get more of it because it’s cost effective,” DiSarro said.
Matt Schmizzi, a political novice who is making his first bid to get on the ballot in Westmoreland County as a candidate for Common Pleas Court judge, said he hopes people will see his name on 1,500 yard signs scattered across the area and be moved to “do their due diligence” and find out more about him. For that, they can go to Twitter, Instagram or Facebook.
But the ease of digital campaigning hasn’t stopped his campaign from relying on the printer’s trade. In addition to hundreds of black and aqua yard signs, campaign volunteers built frames and posted 100 larger 4-by-4-foot and 4-by-8-foot signs near major intersections.
Democratic political strategist Mike Mikus said it’s all about tradition and keeping volunteers happy. It’s sometimes a tough call for local candidates who must weigh sacrificing mailers and other forms of messaging to purchase signs, Mikus said.
“The funny thing about yard signs and how much supporters love them is that if there is one thing that people who work on campaigns hate, it is yard signs. It’s so much work, and it doesn’t have much impact on how people vote,” he said.
Indeed, it can get downright confusing at some highway intersections where as many as two dozen campaign signs compete for attention along with signs advertising rummage sales, high school musicals and things such as local craft fairs and festivals.
Lisa Frederick, of Unity Printing, a Westmoreland County print shop, said she sees a surge in contracts around election time. Work began streaming into the shop in February.
“It hasn’t changed much over the years,” she said.
Local and county candidates are among her best customers. But she’s not giving away any trade secrets — as many campaigns require the business to sign non-disclosure statements about the work it does for them.
In addition to yard signs, the company prints campaign literature as well as t-shirts, pens and other campaign novelties.
Like Schmizzi, first-time judicial candidate Jessica Rafferty is counting on hundreds of yard signs and a scattering of highway billboards to build name recognition. But she has some reservations about what some might consider an eyesore.
“Really, with the signs, I have a two-fold opinion: it’s a way to get your name out there that is not terribly expensive; and the second thing is I tend to agree that are too many signs for all candidates. If the county saw fit to do something to limit them or limit the places we put them, I’d probably support that,” she said.
Mark Harris, a GOP political consultant and co-founder of ColdSpark Media, said yard signs are a way to let supporters “wear their badge on their sleeves and be proud of who they’re working for.”
“And it certainly does help when you’re trying to create a sort of bandwagon effect,” Harris said.
Deb Erdley is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Deb at 724-850-1209, [email protected] or via Twitter .