Lawn signs are one of the few campaign tactics deployed by candidates for every level of government in the United States. Inexpensive and relatively easy to deploy, lawn signs are a tactic available to even the most obscure and underfunded candidate for a downballot office. Indeed, the efflorescence of roadside lawn signs is often one of the few outward manifestations of a low-salience election.
And that’s true even when, as is the case here in the Big Breezy, placing those signs anywhere other than someone’s actual lawn is forbidden by ordinance: the median on the east end of the Northwest Distressway collects these by the hundreds. I have noticed that winners are marginally quicker about clearing them off than losers are, but the ideal — that they vanish into thin air thirty seconds after the polls close — is not going to be reached in my lifetime.
- We conduct the first four randomized field trials of lawn signs.
- On average, lawn signs increase vote share by 1.7 percentage points.
- The effects of lawn signs spill over into adjacent precincts.
And a lot of downballot elections are closer than 1.7 percent; I remember one City Council vote here that was won by a single vote.
Alex Coppock, one of the co-authors of the study, told POLITICO the effects they found were in persuading voters to choose a certain candidate, not on turnout.
“We were surprised by these findings, because the conventional wisdom is that lawn signs don’t do much — they’re supposed to be a waste of money and time. Many campaign consultants think that signs ‘preach to the choir’ and not much else,” Coppock said.
“The effect is small in terms of percentage points, though the implication is that thousands of voters would have voted for someone else if not for the signs,” Coppock said. “My guess is that part of the reason that the effect is small is because any campaign tactic — signs, ads, mailers, calls, etc — only move people around at the margin. In many ways, it would be strange if the effect were bigger. Imagine a world in which the presence or absence of lawn signs could swing an election by 10 points.”
Truth be told, I think that as the electorate continues to fragment, that very world may be upon us before we know it.