Why campaign lawn signs still matter and how to use them

Some campaigns don’t need many sign or any at all but there are also campaigns that benefit from what campaign yard signs do well:

  • Increase candidate name recognition: Political scientist Mel Kahn has shown that yard signs do increase a voter’s ability to recognize the name of a political candidate. If the candidate grew up in the district, works in the district, and is active in the community, there will still be voters who don’t know who the candidate is but name ID is less of an issue than with some other candidates. The more well-known the candidate the fewer campaign yard signs that you will need to build it.
  • Motivate supporters and volunteers: If there is one group of voters that loves yard signs it’s your supporters and volunteers. There are campaigns that don’t order a single yard sign. These campaigns have to tell their volunteers and supporters that request political lawn signs that they are sorry but they don’t have them. This works against candidates. A couple of dollars is a small price to pay to keep supporters happy and motivated.
  • Build campaign visibility during GOTV and at polling places: Political campaigns sometimes hold “visibility” events. Usually, this means that volunteers will be waving signs at busy intersections in the lead up to the election and also outside polling places on Election Day. You can use volunteers with your yard signs or even just place them along the road or on private property as the election nears to bring attention to the campaign.

On the other hand, there are many campaigns that believe that they can order several hundred yard signs, go to a few parades, and coast to victory. This is simply not the case if your opponent is running a modern campaign. The candidate, staff, and volunteers must be connecting with voters directly. This means that you should be going door to door, phone banking, and executing well-planned direct mail campaigns to identify, persuade, and turn out voters.

Campaign lawn signs aren’t a substitute for a well-run political campaign but they are a part of one. It’s important to understand your yard sign needs so that you order just the number that you need. If you order too many you’ve wasted much needed campaign resources. If you order too few, you’ll run out before Election Day and be forced to order a small amount at high prices or go without.

The pages on this site and the blog will help you understand the strengths and weaknesses of certain types of candidates, how that affects your yard signs strategy, and the pros and cons of certain types of different sizes, shapes, and substrates of signs. We provide the information you need and recommend the signs that you need to get that part of your campaign right so that you can get back to canvasses and phone banks.

Campaign Signs and the Media

One way to think about the media is as a mediator between your political campaign and voters. When the media is involved, instead of

Earn media with yard sign wars
Earn media using campaign signs

the communications cycle looking like this:

* Candidate conveys message to voters

* Voter responds

* Candidate responds

* Etc

The message looks more like this:

* Candidate conveys a message to the media

* The media filters the message for voters

* Voters respond

* The media filters the message in the form of letters to the editor

* The candidate responds

* Etc

Adding the media to the mix can damage a campaign. Perhaps the media took a position the candidate holds out of context or the candidate misspoke and that got top billing in the next day’s newspaper. The media, on the other hand, can aid your campaign.

Since it is an intermediary and independent of the campaign, voters are more apt to trust a message coming from the local newspaper or TV station than from a political campaign.

In the same way, political lawn signs are a medium. There is more trust in the campaign when someone independent of the campaign, an average voters, has expressed their support publicly through a sign.

Campaign Yard Signs – Where to Put Them

In more than ten years of campaigning for candidates who are running for elected office, I have seen yard signs all over the place. If there is a surface that you could possibly adhere a yard sign to or a piece of ground that you could possibly stick a campaign sign in, I have seen it. These are the most common places campaigns put signs and what the benefits or problems with those locations are.

Private Property

To make a long story short, you should focus your efforts on putting signs on private lawns and property. Putting yard signs on private property does a number of things:

* Demonstrates that there are people who are supporting candidate and want to show their public support.

* Reduces the chances that the political sign will be stolen. There are sign thieves who will go onto private property to take signs but they are fewer in number that those that will take signs from the public right of way.

* Logistically, these signs are oftentimes easier to distribute and recover since the homeowner can do much of this work for the campaign.

* Putting signs on private property avoids some of the legal issues that you may face by putting signs along the public right of way and otherwise.

Highways and Along Other Roads

The principal benefit of putting signs along highways and other busy roads is that a lot of people will see the sign. These signs, however, don’t have the same impact as those on private property since anyone, such as the candidate himself, can put them out whereas putting signs on private property demonstrates that there is support for the candidate from voters.

Also, there are often restrictions on when and where you can put campaign signs out along the public right of way in your state and in municipalites. Please check with your state’s department of transportation and local government offices before putting your signs out only to have them taken away and fines issued by state and local governments if you are violating yard sign distribution regulations.

On Poles and Trees

In most areas, it is illegal to adhere signs onto poles, trees, rocks, and other natural formations or government owned property. While it might be tempting to put signs on telephone poles particularly in areas where there is little grass, avoid this and save your campaign trouble from local and state authorities.

Their Yard Signs for a Reason

Essentially, it boils down to that yard signs or lawn signs are called that for a reason! They belong on private property where they are doing the best for the political campaign and also following the state and local regulations.

Assign a Yard Sign Director

World's Best Boss
As a field staffer, I know that one of the biggest reasons that yard signs have their detractors is because there isn’t ordinarily one person who is in charge of campaign yard signs. In fact, most campaigns leave it up to their field staff to handle campaign signs.

I recommend that the campaign identify a volunteer as the director of yard sign distribution. This way, field staff can concentrate on canvasses and phone banks and at the same time, people will be able to get the political lawn signs that they have requested faster.

Interestingly, you will find that identifying someone as the point person for yard signs won’t be too difficult! While it might take some sweet talking to convince someone to canvass chances are there is at least one person in your campaign organization that is excited about yard signs and will be eager to take on the role.

Campaign Signs and GOTV

Campaign Yard Sign on Private property
Yard sign on local elected official’s lawn

GOTV, or get out the vote, consists of election day and the few days directly preceding the election. For the most part, the elements of good GOTV are similar to the rest of the campaign except that it is faster paced, the universe of targets is different, and the message is different.

Get Out the Vote Targeting

GOTV focuses on getting supporters out to vote, so you want to contact them. What if, however, you don’t have enough supporters identified to win? Then, look to precincts where there is strong party performance, in the fall, or candidate performance, in a primary.

Target the likely voters in those precincts more generally. Do this through increased phone banks, canvasses, and even putting many campaign yard signs in the precinct.

GOTV Message

Instead of trying to ID or persuade voters at this point, your message is simply to come out to the polls and vote as well as provide the logistical support to do so such as with reminders and rides to the polls.

Voter Contact Pace

You should be touching base with your supporters during GOTV at least two or three times. Once by direct mail and twice by phone. Try to come up with a different script for each contact. The first call might be where the candidate is located on the ballot. The call the day before the election might revolve around the weather on election day or what you estimate turnout to look like and why that makes it important for the voter to go to the polls. These are just a few examples of the different reasons that you could find to contact a voter twice in the few days preceding the election.

Conclusion

Your campaign can use political lawn signs to help blanket a precinct during get out the vote. It is another way to increase awareness about the upcoming election in precincts where there is strong support for the party or the candidate.

3 Political Lawn Sign Philosophies that Work

If there is one part of political campaigns that you hear differering opinions on, it’s campaign lawn signs. You can’t get around the debate where one person proclaims “yard signs’ don’t vote” and another is demanding yard signs in triplicate for every home.

How should your campaign handle signs? Well, it’s important to put campaign signs in context with the rest of the campaign. Determine where your campaign is going to excel and where you are going to take shortcuts. Your campaign might be focused on direct mail and radio while another campaign is heavy on canvassing and phone banks. Likewise, figure out where yard signs will fit into this mix. There are a number of methods that work.

Political Lawn Signs for Polling Places and Requests

The minimalist order means ordering enough signs for polling places and for people who request them directly. Determining how many signs to order is more art than science except for the number of polling places. I’d consider ordering somewhere between ten and twenty five signs per precinct depending upon the candidate.

Campaigns that have a strong field and direct mail campaign can successfully use this sign strategy.

Polling Places, Requests, and Strategic Locations

This builds upon the last strategy adding strategic locations. Strategic locations are more often than not on private property. They include people who just have a great location at a busy intersection and also community and political leaders whose public display of support will carry weight with other voters in the area.

Political Signs for Supporters

This is a big jump from the previous strategy, but this can be incredibly effective. This is best for local campaigns. Here is a case study. I’m using fake names. Bob Smith was part of the minority party running for a local office. He was known in the community but still opted for a strong use of yard signs. Essentially, if they were a supporter he pushed hard for them to put a sign in their yard.

Other than yard signs his only expense in the campaign was photocopying a homemade literature piece that he took door to door accruing more supporters and putting signs on their lawn. He reached a tipping point where there were so many signs in the community that people knew who he was when he reached the door.

Despite being outnumbered by more than 4:1 by the majority party he won his election to local office.

Plan a Yard Sign Strategy

The moral of the story is to plan a strategy. Don’t haphazardly order a handful only to decide later on that you should have ordered thousands or vice versa. When you are planning out your TV, radio, direct mail, and direct voter contact incorporate yard signs into the planning process and choose a strategy that’s going to work best for your campaign.

Campaign Plan – September and Yard Signs

In the fall, political campaigns heat up. In the month of September, political campaigns should generally focus on:

* Canvassing: contacting targeted voters door to door

* Fundraising: candidate and staff phone calls and fundraising events

* Cable TV: if the campaign is investing in television, the first TV spot should hit in September

* Direct mail: design the direct mail piece or literature drop piece

* Mail literature: land late September

* ID phone calls: begin in late September

Where, however, do political lawn signs fit into this schedule? The best way to build up a list of supporters who want yard signs is at their door. Ideally, your yard sign distribution should follow a linear pattern with your the number of doors that you have knocked on in September.

If there is a strong candidate running and voters find the candidate’s message compelling, a good percentage of the people that you speak with at the door will express their support and a similarly strong percentage of people who are supporters will agree to take a yard sign.

Campaign Phone Script – Yard Sign Ask

political callsIf you’re a political operative, you’ve done this before. You talk to someone who is excited about getting involved and you pile it on only for the person to get burn out and move on.

Even in a political campaign where time is of the essence, it’s important to understand how much commitment a volunteer can put forth and move them methodically along until they are the best volunteer they can be.

One of the first steps in this process is turning a private supporter into a public one. An easy way to do this is to ask if they want campaign yard signs.

Yard Sign Phone Script

Interviewer: Hi, this is xxx. I’m a volunteer for xxx. Is xxx home?

Interviewer: Hi, this is xxx. I’m a volunteer for xxx. How are you?

Interviewer: Thanks for signing up online as a supporter. / I heard from a campaign volunteer who knocked on your door, that you are supporting xxx. Thanks!

Interviewer: I’m calling because we recently got an order of yard signs and thought that you would like one! Would you show your support for xxx by putting a sign in your yard?

Interviewer (if no): Okay. Thanks again for your support for xxx and we’ll see you at the polls on xxx.

Interviewer (if yes): That’s great! Would you be willing to come pick it up at xxx so that volunteers can use their time to contact undecided voters or do you need someone to drop the sign off at your home?

Don’t Stop There

It’s critical that this isn’t your last contact with this supporter. Contact supporters who have agreed to take a yard sign again asking if they would help with a maling or other campaign volunteer opportunity.

Candidate Visibility Events

Campaign Yard Sign Disclaimer
While Most Signs’ Disclaimer Begin with “Paid for by” This is Another Option

One aspect of campaigning for elected office is visibility. There are a number of times throughout the campaign that a visibility event will help a campaign connect with voters. It’s important to note that the denser the population of the district the more effective visibility will be. There should be a lot of local foot or vehicle traffic to support a visibility event.

Political Visibility Throughout the Campaign

Visibility events are fun! Essentially, volunteers hold, wave, and proclaim their support for a candidate at a busy intersection or along a busy road while holding campaign lawn signs and homemade signs. It’s best to use a mix between campaign signs and more homespun looking signs so that the event looks both organized and inspired by the grassroots.

You’ll find that there are some people who won’t go door to door or make phone calls but they are willing to volunteer with other campaign activities like mailings and visibility. Don’t forget about these voters! Schedule regular visibility events and empower those volunteers to organize their own without using campaign staff time so long as they are meeting strategize objectives.

Visibility for Events

Visibility can drum up awareness about an event. If you have an exciting speaker coming to an event, increase the excitement surrounding it with a visibility event. It’s also a great show of force before a debate or other public forum that includes all candidates.

Visibility for Get Out the Vote

The most common time that campaigns execute visibility events is in the run up to election day. While the best GOTV efforts are extremely targeted, visibility towards the end of a campaign reaches a lot of voters reminding them to vote for your candidate and that the election itself is coming up. Likewise, as the election nears, it’s important to activate all possible volunteers. If you have volunteers that will only do visibility send them out!

Putting Visibility Into Context

Visibility is just one element of a political campaign. Campaigns can win without conducting any visibility whatsoever but it can help in competitive races and for certain purposes such as increasing candidate name recognition and bringing awareness about the election itself.

Strategically, it’s important to understand whether your campaign is a more of a stealth campaign, strongly pushing forward, or somewhere in between. While it’s much harder to run a stealth campaign, where you quietly build a coalition of supporters so as not to activate your opponent’s volunteer base, than it used to be, you still can in many districts and these types of campaigns shouldn’t include visibility. Most other campaigns can get some value from visibility events.

Campaign Yard Signs and Other Political Signage

Empty Billboard

There are different ways that political campaigns use signs to get their message out to voters in a district. The most common way and the most effective type of sign is a campaign yard sign or lawn sign.

Political Lawn Signs

Campaign signs have been proven to increase candidate name recognition among prospective voters by a political science professor in Wichita. In addition to increasing candidate name ID, campaign lawn signs are also favorites of volunteers who want to show their support publicly by displaying a yard sign and for increased visibility around election day and polling places.

Candidates, however, can overdo yard signs. It’s important that candidates have a solid door to door and phone banking strategy in place.

Billboards

Campaigns should proceed with caution when considering using billboards. First, billboards can get very expensive. Also, billboards are most often along major highways, which means unless you are running a statewide campaign, you will be spending campaign dollars advertising to people who live in another district. Likewise, you can be more targeted with yard signs concentrating on areas where there are many targeted voters.

Bus Signs

Bus signs are a mixed bag. These signs are only effective for people running in an urban district. If you are interested in using bus signs, contact the bus company to get some information about the type of people that take the bus in the community. If the information that bus company provides coincides with the people that the campaign is targeting, you have a good match and something to consider when allocating campaign resources.

Types of Political Outdoor Signage

Political yard signs, billboards, and bus signs are the most common outdoor political signs. Depending upon how well known the candidate is, your political campaign might not need many yard signs and no other types of outdoor signage. Campaigns in cities can also consider using bus signs too.