Do campaign signs actually work?

Do campaign signs actually work?
Campaign signs. (File photo)

Campaign signs have begun springing up across the city as the state Senate District 30 races gets underway but how effective are they? 

It depends whom you ask. 

Retired state Sen. Patsy Ticer, who first won the now contested seat in 1996, said campaign signs build name recognition, reassure supporters and influence potential voters by way of osmosis. People might not notice it, but theyre absorbing the candidates name as they drive or walk around town. With every glance, they get a little more familiar, she said. 

The advantage leans toward a political newcomer, Ticer said. 

When theyre very important is at the beginning, Ticer said. If all signs were disallowed it wouldnt affect the incumbents like the newcomers.

But there are pitfalls. When public right-of-ways get cluttered with a plethora of campaign signs, voters tend to gloss over the displays, she said. Worse, if public space is crawling out by signs voters might develop negative feelings toward all of the candidates.

The trick is in the timing, Ticer said. 

We always had a rule: we didnt put them up until maybe two months ahead of [the election], she said. They get old, literally and figuratively. They get old from peoples perceptions and they also get old the actual signs themselves and then they get ratty looking.    

Ratty isnt the word a candidate wants associated with their campaign, Ticer said. 

Alexandria-based political consultant Brent Littlefield laughs when asked about the age-old campaign standard. If he had a dollar for every candidate who believed they could win an election solely on their campaign signs hed be on par with the rich and famous, Littlefield said tongue in cheek. 

Theyre part of every campaign, but unless theyre just an aspect of an overall strategy its not worth the investment, he said. 

Signs have a place in any campaign, but some candidates rely too heavily on signs and view their impact as much more important than they actually are, Littlefield said. Voters dont want to vote for someone because of his name, they want to vote for [an issue].

Like Ticer, Littlefield sees campaign signs serving three critical purposes: name recognition, a show of support for undecided voters and to deliver a message. The latter reason is the concept candidates are most likely to forget, he said. 

When I meet with clients, whether theyre clients that are running for governors, running for Congress or local candidates, its all the same, he said. The signs should be part of a very comprehensive campaign strategy. Theyre never a key part of the strategy, just a piece of it.

Voters themselves had mixed feelings about the tried and true campaign tactic. Alexandrian Sheila Pollack ignores them. The last campaign sign to catch her attention was more of an anti-campaign: placards imploring the reader to retire U.S. Rep. Jim Moran (D-8). 

For fellow city resident Jeremy Fretts, the signs mostly serve as a reminder a local election is on the horizon. 

I wouldnt know about it otherwise, he said. 

Though he wont base his vote on a political sign, Fretts does evaluate campaign placards. Good graphics or a clever idea could spark his interest, he said. 

While Fretts and Pollack dont let campaign signs influence their vote, resident Steve Sindiong believes Ticers theory of osmosis might have more than a bit of truth to it. 

Its kind of a sorry state of things, but a lot of people will vote based on how frequent a sign of somebodys name will be, he said. Theyll vote on the familiarity of a name more than the issues or the candidates stance.

Effective or not, Ticer doesnt see the campaign sign going anywhere soon. 

During the period of time during a campaign we expect to see signs and we should expect to see signs, she said. Theres a time for them and not a time for them.