Photograph by Estella Nakahara Hemp
Every election, political lawn signs posted by candidates and their supporters spring up on front yards, lamp posts, trees, and telephone poles. Though most voters don’t rely on lawn signs to tell them who to vote for, political signs have become a defining feature of the campaign season. While seemingly innocuous, for better or worse, political signs play an essential role in a campaign to some voters and campaign teams.
Since political signs often bring up no mention of ideology, it may seem obvious that they would have little to no effect in terms of changing the results of an election. However according to Politico, lawn signs make a difference in close swing elections, raising the question of why political lawn signs still appear everywhere each election cycle.
It seems that the main purpose of lawn signs is not to attract voters for a candidate or a ballot measure, or even to raise awareness and name recognition, but as a relatively inexpensive indulgence to raise the esteem of candidates and make voters feel as though they have something to root for. According to The Atlantic, many voters root for candidates as though they were fans of a sports team, using lawn signs as a means to wage a passive aggressive war against their neighbors.
Another downside of campaign signs is how frequently they’re illegally placed throughout cities during campaign seasons. While the First Amendment gives people the right to post lawn signs, this right can often lead to a flagrant disregard when it comes to city guidelines around both the placement and removal of lawn signs. For example, according to Berkeleyside, each local election the city struggles to prevent the placement of lawn signs in certain illegal areas.
Recently, in Berkeley, the city asked campaign committees to remove lawn signs from city property. While some committees pushed back, the city responded that if the signs were not removed by Friday, October 26, money would have to be diverted from Berkeley’s tax fund for the removal of the signs.
Resistance of campaign committees towards removing signs that cost them money to produce is understandable. However, it’s concerning that candidates who aim to better the city of Berkeley would resist laws set by the city itself. Though political engagement is an upside of campaign signs, it’s no excuse to put drivers and pedestrians at risk.
None of the arguments against political lawn signs state that they can’t play a positive role in elections by bringing supporters of candidates together. Campaign parties and voters should keep in mind their intent when putting up campaign signs in order to ensure that their impact isn’t counterproductive to the goals of the person or cause that they’re supporting. By being mindful of how we show our support, we can create a more positive campaign season as a whole.