Wednesday, September 20, 2006
I was in Jefferson County, Washington for a bit last month and political yard signs looked to be a genuine cash crop from their numbers. I've never seen so many and I found the sight rather odd, considering that Jefferson has a population of less than 26,000 badly scattered over a rather large chunk of real estate. Another thing which I found odd is that the signs were for candidates for local office. The biggest advertisers seemed to be contenders for the offices of prosecuting attorney and sheriff. There were a few Cantwell signs up and quite a few McGavick signs but those were the only names I recognized.

It really took longer than it should have for the advertising component of my marketing training to kick in - the lawn signs leaned heavily toward Bierbaum (the challenger), while Dalzell (the incumbent) seemed content to rely upon her incumbency to carry the day. Birnbaum spent the little that she had available on the most effective method of gaining name recognition that she could afford. It almost carried the day as she received 48.6% of the vote yesterday. Almost.

Thinking about those signs led me to pay a bit more attention to signage on the fourteen hour drive back down to the Bay Area. More than fifty years of exposure to signage in all its humdrum diversity has numbed its ability to make much of an impact upon me and I found that paying attention to signs wasn't really a worthwhile endeavor. Except for the gas price signs, of course. They were telling a cheering story for they foretold a trip home which would cost less than the trip up. That in itself is an indication that I am no model for the economist's "rational man" because the total 'savings' involved in that 14 hour drive (the equivalent of three weeks worth of commuting, according to the census bureau) was less than $5. Apparently some practitioners of the social sciences are very upset with the irrationality shown by people like me who cheer up at very modest signs of improvement in our economic well being. What rational being would reward the President for an occurrence over which he exercised no authority or control? Perhaps those practitioners need to sit down and chat with some people within the Mediacracy and explain the irrationality of the Mediacrats conspiracy theories - perhaps with crayons and butcher paper stick figure drawings, so that the attention of the typical Mediocrat might be held long enough for the concept of a disjunct between correlation and causation to take hold.

Returning to yard signs and the effectiveness of advertising in relationship to incumbency, Brown's lead over DeWine in Ohio has disappeared. The RNC has put about $1.5M into advertising in Ohio since the 1st of September and they're getting their money's worth. In the House races, the Republicans are on offense in only four districts, GA-08, IA-03, IL-08 and VT so far. The Republican's national groups have pumped a total of $716K into those districts since September 1st and the Democrat's national groups have replied by spending $0. Extraordinary confidence or lack of resources? I'll put up a hypothesis within a few days in a Shifting Sands piece.


Knucklehead said...

I used to enjoy the song Signs. I always thought it was dummer 'an heck but I liked it. It was thought provoking. For example,

And the sign said anybody caught trespassing would be shot on sight
So I jumped on the fence and yelled at the house, Hey! what gives you the right
To put up a fence to keep me out or to keep mother nature in
If God was here, he'd tell you to your face, man you're some kinda sinner

provoked two thoughts. The first, predictably, was "Man, you're some kinda stoopid". (This was probably because I am old enough to remember rock salt loaded shotgun shells.) The second was this vague scene where one resident of the posted property was saying to another, "Aim low of center of mass so he falls forward."

Not to belabor this off-topic excursion but another example is...

Now, hey you Mister! can't you read, you got to have a shirt and tie to get a seat
You can't even watch, no you can't eat, you ain't suppose to be here
Sign said you got to have a membership card to get inside Uh!

which provoked thoughts such as, "Ummm... why can't a eatorium demand a dress code suitable to its customers?", and, "we long-haired, freaky people ain't too fond of having the Shirts 'an' Ties hangin' around our favorite haunts, we have our own version of 'membership cards', so how are we any different?"


The signage blitz for elections is part of the "caring by debris" phenomenon. There is this social phenomenon that seems to demand that folk demostrate how much they "care" about something. Elections are one example. The roadside (or sidewalk for the urbane) shrines to accident or homicide victims is another manifestation.

If one simply puts a single electioneering sign at a crossroad or highway exit, or a flower at a grave, it just doesn't demonstrate adequate caring. You have to place three, six, even eight or ten electioneering signs in the same space or pile flowers and knicknacks high and deep.

Skookumchuk said...

Well, Rick, if you drive through certain parts of Seattle, you will see more signs plastered on the back bumpers of 86 Subaru wagons than you saw in ten miles of driving through Jefferson County. Only three guesses as to the general tenor of the Seattle bumper stickers.

terrye said...

The thing I have noticed around here is that the signs do not mention party affiliation. Just the name and the office.

Rick Ballard said...

Indiana is a Dem target - at least Chocola, Hostettler and Sodrel are Dem targets. Sodrel pops up as the weakest seat on the Republican side but so far the national committees have put more money into Hostettler's district. I had moved Chocola's seat to the safe column but there's a new poll out today that shows him 8 points down. He has plenty of dough and a good 'Q' so I'm very curious about that poll. Hostettler and Sodrel both appear to be weak candidates as far as 'Q' goes but I haven't looked at their opponents yet.

If you're in IN-02, IN-08 or IN-09 you're going to see a ton of signs. You will still be luckier than the Ohioans or Pennsylvanians though. They're going to be extraordinarily glad to see the end of this campaign.

Knucklehead said...


That is also true for my neck of the woods. It is impossible to tell (unless there are secret clues I am unaware of) what party a local politician is affiliated with based upon the signage. Of course, name recognition and zip code are pretty much all you need. If you recognize the name then you have the incumbent and and the zip code tells you what party ;) Towns and counties are as blue and red as states are.

terrye said...


Indiana went big for Bush, but a lot of folks here are unhappy with Mitch Daniels and Bayh is a Democrat of course, so there is some strength here in that party.

Indiana tends to be strong in terms of prolife movement but there is a certain labor leaning here too.

I think folks in Indiana feel their people have not done enough for them. That is something about the pork busters thing I wonder about. People around here spend a lot more time bitching about the government not doing enough for them than too much.

All I hear from people is that the price of gas will go up after the election because the Republicans took money from oil companies and the high prices and now the lower prices are all part of a scam.

I wonder what they will say if the prices do not go back up?

loner said...

There were quite a few yard signs for the challenger (and landslide winner) in the Mayor's race in June and for the incumbent House member in 2000 when Jane Harman challenged for the House seat she'd given up when she made her run for Governor. Other than that, not much. On the other hand, central PA was awash in signs in yards, signs in highway medians and signs on corners when we were there during the final days of October in 2004. They were pretty evenly divided between signs for Bush and and signs for Kerry with a smattering of signs for lesser knowns thrown in. I asked a few of the in-laws about the numbers, but they didn't seem to think things too out of the ordinary.