3 Tips for Campaign Signs in Open Seats

Running in an open seat, has its own challenges. For campaign signs, it’s important to keep in mind that all candidates will have low name recognition, so campaign yard signs and other tactics to increase candidate name identification are doubly important.

Video Notes

First, does the outgoing elected official have a good reputation? If the person leaving office is well-respected in the community, consider branding yourself similarly. If the outgoing official had, for example, used fold over signs that were brown, consider using the same type of sign and use the same color. Of course, if the elected official wasn’t popular or left disgraced, you should pay special attention to differentiate yourself from the outgoing official. You can use the power of mimicry or differentiation to your advantage not just with the candidate that you are running against but also to identify or disassociate yourself from the outgoing official.

It’s best to avoid indicating your party affiliation on a campaign lawn sign particularly in a competitive seat, but in the case of open seats that strongly favor a certain party, referring to a political party can help. One of the benefits of political parties in American politics is that they are a shortcut for voters. In general, when a voter knows a candidate’s party affiliation they make assumptions, that are usually correct, about the person’s views on issues and general approach to governing. Candidates that indicate their party affiliation on campaign signs help voters make assumptions about who you are as a candidate, which is useful when you are a member of the majority party in the district and have low name ID.

Finally, open seats are characterized by candidates with low name recognition. The principle benefit of campaign yard signs is that they increase candidate name ID, so get campaign signs out early. Candidates should increase their name identification as early and significantly as possible, so that the campaign can move onto to identifying who voters’ support in the election, persuading undecided voters, and ultimately getting your supporters out to the vote on Election Day.

Slideshow Notes

Check out the slideshow for the Cliff Notes version of these tips for campaign yard signs in open seats:

I recommend campaign yard signs that will help increase your candidate name recognition if your running in an open seat. Check out the campaign signs by clicking here.

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.

Your Opponent Ordered the Same Campaign Yard Signs

My opponent has made his yard signs so they look almost exactly like mine. Same colors, same style of type. Only the name is different. Should I make an issue out of this?

This could be a benefit for you. Chances are all of these signs are going to be lost in the shuffle now. If your opponent spent more on them that you did, the net benefit is your’s.

If you’re really concerned about this, you can make or order something of a different color to stick onto the sign to differentiate it from your opponent: “vote” or “another family for” or “sportsmen for” whatever.

Corneo is right, chances are this issue won’t have too much traction in the media or otherwise. You can throw it in there if there are issues with stealing signs etc. down the road but as a stand alone, voters and the media won’t care.

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 Sign Volunteers – The 5 Bs

Volunteer thank you visit at Kevin Lamoureux's Winnipeg North campaign office / Visite du chef liberal Michael Ignatieff pour remercier les benevoles Convincing someone to help out on your campaign is difficult enough, but keeping a volunteer might just be more difficult. There are five Bs that will ruin your relationship with your volunteer:

* Buffoonization – volunteers aren’t idiots

* Burn out – volunteer is given too much, too soon

* Banishment – volunteer is not told what is going on or doesn’t feel part of the effort

* Battling – too much fighting among staff or volunteers

* Boring – campaign is not fun

Let’s say that you have identified someone who will distribute campaign yard signs for the candidate: how do the five Bs apply to the yard sign distribution director?

* Buffoonization – while it’s important to provide some direction to the volunteer, let the yard sign director have some flexibility in how they receive sign requests and how the person fulfills them.

* Burn out – make sure that you have identified someone who will be able to take requests for signs at various times throughout the week or weekend and respond quickly.

* Banishment – explain to the volunteer, how much money that you have spent on campaign signs and that you are entrusting the volunteer with hundreds or thousands of dollars of investment by the campaign. In addition, that particularly since the candidate has low name recognition, that yard signs are important to increase candidate name recognition so that other campaign efforts, including canvassing and phone banks, will be more effective.

* Battling – while the yard sign director should be innoculated from most internal battles, it’s always best to keep these to a minimum and have ground rules for disagreements among the candidate and his or her staff.

* Boring – delivering yard signs is a fun job since the volunteer will only be engaging strong supporters but think about ways that you can reward the volunteer such as giving a complimentary ticket for a fundraiser or inviting them to any number of social activities with the candidate or staff.

While you don’t need to go through this exercise for each of your campaign volunteers, it’s useful to keep these concepts in mind when you have identifiied new volunteers and when you are activating existing volunteers to give them a meaningful experience and leverage their talents for the campaign’s benefit.

Rewarding Campaign Contributors with Yard Signs

Plastic Bag Political Yard Sign
Bag Signs are Good for Large Campaigns

If you listen to public radio or receive solicitations in the mail from nonprofit entities, you know that they are often offering something in return for your contribution. Of course, the value of the gift is a mere fraction of the value of the contribution.

With that said, clearly, if some of the top nonprofit marketers are offering a small gift there is a good reason. These small rewards for donations increase the number of donations that these organizations receive and oftentimes act as a reminder of their contributors’ connection to the entity.

Campaigns should test to see if this works in the campaigns and elections context.

Campaign Lawn Signs as a Reward

For local campaigns particularly, yard signs can be a big expense. There are ways to reduce the cost of lawn signs but getting supporters to subsidize the cost of them or get signs in exchange for contributions will complete offset the cost or even act as a small fundraiser.

With the latter in mind, if we used a similar proportion of value to donation that nonprofits are using, we might suggest a donation to the campaign of $25 or more in exchange for a sign.

Raffling Yard Signs

Oftentimes, campaigns run out of yard signs. Just like anything, signs become more valuable when there are less available and there is still much demand. Use this to your campaigns advantage and raffle off the last several signs the campaign has.

Perhaps, there is an existing fundraiser that you could bring the signs to or another way to start the raffle would be to send an email out or publish a blog post.

Non Monetary Yard Signs Rewards

Finally, if your campaign is committed to distributing campaign lawn signs without cost to the support consider other ways to coax additional actions from the supporter. For example, supporters who tweet about an upcoming rally get a free yard sign or anyone who updates their Facebook status to something that is supportive of the campaign gets a sign. Finally, anyone who comes into the office to make phone calls or canvass gets a sign.


Supporters love campaign yard signs. While they won’t win you elections, you can use signs for more than increasing candidate name recognition. Try out ways to leverage signs to increase your volunteer base and raise a few extra dollars.

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.

The most famous yard sign post of all time

Huffington Post

Phil Busse, admitted to stealing yard signs on a Huffington Post piece that he wrote. He explains where he steals signs and why:

“The biggest sign I stole was also the grandest thrill. It was 10 p.m. on a Saturday evening and there was a good chance the homeowners were awake. I drove by once and could see at least one light on inside the house. As a safety feature, newer models of Subarus do not allow the driver to leave the engine running and to turn off all exterior lights. The parking lights burned orange as I hustled up the small grass embankment. Inside, I could see a TV flickering blue light.”

But the article also talks about other yard sign thieves and the uproar around it. One yard sign thief, for example, was shot!

Phil was a visiting professor at St. Olaf College, former candidate for mayor of Portland, and has volunteered on campaigns in the past. Was is the operative word since he was soon dismissed following from his teaching job following the post. This wasn’t his first gaffe, however, having had issues with a salon.com post.

There are two interesting parts of this continuing story. The first is that stealing yard signs is an emotional issue. Phil Busse knew that it wasn’t going to make a major difference in the campaign if he stole signs but he did it anyway. What he didn’t foresee was the outcry following his admission. There are some strongly worded comments in the Huffington Post article and on forums throughout the internet!

With that said, politics is also a business of second chances. His nonprofit is apparently still doing well and he has also had another stint as a political professional.

Campaign signs and hilarious political signs

Short and sweet. Two lists posts that I found to share with you.

Campaign yard sign analysis from Worcester candidates in 2010. There are a number of them with some commentary from the author.

So you may or may not agree with the political sentiment of these primarily homemade signs but I’m sure that more than one will make you laugh.

Bonus oldie but goodie. Obama yard signs on UStream draws hundreds of viewers, for no good reason.

Political campaign to watch

In the race for Caseyville borough council, incumbents have eschewed yard signs and challengers are using them. This should be an interesting race to watch! While there are other factors like whether voters want more of the same or something different and other local concerns, yard signs maybe play a factor in this race.

With that said, one of the challengers notes that he needs campaign lawn signs to increase candidate name recognition. Yard signs are more important for challengers compared to incumbents who are more likely already know among the electorate:

Four candidates looking to unseat members of the Caseyville Village Board say they will continue using campaign signs, despite a pledge by incumbents to not use any outdoor ads.
“People may know my face, but not my name. Signs will help me more,” said Rob Watt, one of seven people running for three seats on the board.

All three incumbents in the race �?? Kerry Davis, Patrick Dyson and Ron Tamburello �?? recently promised to not advertise their campaigns on placards because some residents became upset with the “tremendous number” of signs used in the November election season, Davis said.