- Your News
By Ian Skotte
It’s election season, and it’s definitely a sign of the times.
That means dashes of red, white, blue and the occasional green sprout up across America’s landscape like crops of wildflowers surrounding the nation’s highways.
Every so often these signs even make the news by getting stolen, vandalized or removed by city ordinance.
So what’s all the fuss about? Why do so many politicians go through such lengths to get their name out there?
Well, it’s simple.
According to an electoral study in 2009, street signs being held by volunteers that said “Vote Tomorrow” actually yielded higher voter turnout.
Political Science Professor at the University of the South, Dr. Melody Crowder-Meyer, said these street signs increased voter turnout by 3.48 percentage points.
“Suggesting street sign campaigns may be competitive with other get-out-the-vote tactics in terms of cost-effectiveness,” she said.
But for signs on their own, when are they most effective?
“You want them in high traffic areas,” Democratic candidate for State Senate Justin Walling said. “You also want them in rural areas. I grew up in a rural area so you don’t want to leave those folks out.”
By increasing name recognition, Walling says voters will go the extra mile to research that candidate and their positions on the issues.
“It’s such a large district, so you’re not going to be able to meet every single person,” Walling, who’s running for the Democratic nomination in the 16th district, said. “So [the signs] help in that instance.”
Janice Bowling, a Republican candidate for State Senate in the 16th district, says respectable residents with a candidate’s sign in their yard can lead to more votes from undecided voters.
“In rural counties in particular when folks are out and about and they see those signs…in someone’s yard that’s a very well respected person in the community, you know, they may say, ‘OK, that’s somebody I can trust,’” Bowling said. “Those are things that give subtle messages.”
Dr. Crowder-Meyer agrees with Bowling. She says signs in a “respectable” resident’s yard can sway voters who do not already have a strong party ID, or in elections where there is very little information about the candidates easily accessible or already known.
“Like elections for local offices, or maybe even state legislature,” Dr. Crowder-Meyer said.
Political signs can even be considered an important part of a candidate’s image.
“You want something to catch somebody’s eye,” Walling said. “Because you only have 2-3 seconds that they’re going to look at that.”
His red, white and blue signs are synonymous with the state of Tennessee.
“You want something that looks good, but also gets your name out there,” Walling said.
Bowling chose the color red for her signs. She says it has special meaning to her.
“I’ve always liked the color,” Bowling said. “It’s an energy color. It shows the color blood. I think a lot of people realize all the blood that’s been shed for our country and for our freedoms.
“So that color has a lot of historical significance.”
Signs Are Good For Business
But how do these signs get made?
A trademark image for a candidate obviously needs to look good. Candidates want to convey confidence, leadership and a welcoming attitude—all that in a sign.
That makes it tough for sign makers, like Larry Sparkman with Tennessee Valley Signs in Scottsboro, Ala. Signs come in all sizes. Sparkman’s most popular size is the 18×24 signs.
“It’s a very good business for us,” Sparkman said.
Tennessee Valley Signs employs 20 workers and makes signs for candidates in at least 10 states, he said. Most of the signs Sparkman’s company creates come from the real estate market, but he says election season is a busy time for him.
“Name recognition is very important this time of year when running for office,” Sparkman said. “And [signs] are one of the best ways of getting your name out there.”
Unfortunately for candidates their signs, no matter how well made, can also backfire.
“They are an eyesore and depressing,” Michael Harris posted on Facebook. “[I] would rather see them gone, so I can enjoy a beautiful drive around my town again.”
Patricia Lee posted that she needs to know “what these people stand for.”
“I’m not going to vote for you, no matter how many signs you have,” Lee wrote on The Tullahoma News’ Facebook page.
However, Dr. Crowder-Meyer says she’s not too familiar with any studies regarding too many signs backfiring on candidates.
“It’s an interesting question though – not just in terms of too many signs for local candidates, but also for people living in battleground states who are already being overloaded with presidential campaign ads,” she said.
Still, there are guidelines protecting residents from being inundated with too much signage on city streets through city ordinances.
In 2009, the Tullahoma Board of Mayor and Aldermen adopted a sign ordinance hoping to improve the city’s appearance.
The ordinance states: (political signs) shall not be placed in any public right of way or obstruct traffic visibility.
So candidates running for office with Tullahoma in your district, you want a sign that’s easy to read quickly, according to Dr. Crowder-Meyer
“And sticking with red, white and blue is always a good idea,” she said.