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September 5, 2012 / needhamgrassroots

Signs Don’t Vote

Perfect: Signs Don't Vote

Signs Don’t Vote 2008 

Listen up, folks, because I’m only going to say this once.Signs. Don’t. Vote.They don’t. Really. I promise. And if you’re in possession of a sign that can vote, there are probably a few people at the United States Department of Justice who would like to have a conversation with you.

I’m posting this because I’m getting reports from disgruntled activist friends who went into the XYZ County Democratic headquarters looking for signs and there weren’t any to give out. These friends, and God I love them, have then let me know that this surely signals the certain doom of Obama’s electoral prospects.

This election, as any election, is about limited resources.

I can’t sum it up any better than Sean Quinn, of 538, who posted this great satirical piece that concluded with an equally great reality check:

Organizers – the people out there killing themselves to win this election – hate yard signs with the white-hot intensity of a thousand suns.Barack Obama’s organizers hate them. John McCain’s organizers hate them. It’s because yard signs don’t vote – but they do generate a ridiculous amount of complaining that must be patiently listened to.

Until yard signs sprout little legs and go to the polls on Election Day, in a presidential election with universal name recognition they are just a nice little decoration.

They’re little feel good things, making you feel like you’re on the team. There is nothing wrong with that – that’s not the objection.

The objection is that there is limited time for organizers to accomplish a wide array of prioritized tasks, and in this election they’ve chosen to prioritize identifying, registering, persuading and getting their voters to the polls. Yard signs cut into the organizer’s sleep time – literally.

A lot of people aren’t going to like hearing this truth, but organizers recognize that the majority of people who walk into offices for yard signs are, for volunteering purposes – and this is a technical term – useless. In the majority, these people are not going to knock, they’re not going to make phone calls. Instead, they are going to throw the organizer’s incredibly precious, sleep-deprived time down a bottomless abyss of irretrievability.

People who plant yard signs are maybe going to make their neighbors aware that they support a particular candidate, and in theory, if they live near voters who cede their opinions to peer pressure, they could theoretically be shading the influence of a vote here or there…

Yes, of course it would be nice to have more yard signs. If organizers had an infinite amount of time, they would be happy to pester their bosses up the ladder to see when they’re coming in. Then they’d love to chat with you about how someone stole or defaced them, and run a bunch of replacements right out.

But in the very purple, exurban Northern Virginia neighborhoods there is a problem. There’s a walk list sitting in a campaign office not being walked and knocked, and a newly-registered voter who projects as .45 of a vote for Obama is not being registered.

We all need to take a deep breath for a second here and focus on what really matters. And what really matters here is shoe leather, not signs. Because shoe leather translates directly, measurably, into votes. Signs do not.

Now let’s get out there and win this thing.

–from “Signs Don’t Vote“, 2008



Leave a Comment
  1. Mike / Oct 6 2012 1:45 PM

    Is there science behind this, or is this because grassroots people like grassroots person-to-person activity?

    They did say shoe leather translates “measurably” into votes, and I appreciate how important that is scientifically versus signs, but if you had people drop by an office to pick up signs, and sign up to a list saying where they’d put the signs, etc. (so your opponents can’t trivially come take all your signs) then this would also be measurable.

    I am the kind of person who HATES getting phone calls unsolicited, and hates having people ring my doorbell. I would NEVER do that to people regardless of the cause.

    So a sign is the most you’ll ever get from me. (And money. I donate.)

    So Warren 2012 has run out of signs…. and I get redirected to this flame about signs. I guess I’ll have to spend 20 bucks on a sign from one of the sign-vulture sites. Or make one or something.

    • needhamgrassroots / Oct 6 2012 10:10 PM

      Hi Mike, thanks for the comment!

      This blog post wasn’t meant to flame/inflame but to explain the reasons why resources on grassroots campaigns are not directed toward signs. Please accept our apologies!

      And, yes, there is data that shows that signs and visibility are less persuasive than one on one voter contact. Signs are much easier to deploy and organize than a massive outreach to voters, so if they WERE just as effective, you wouldn’t see (some) campaigns putting so much time and energy and resources into canvassing (one on one contact with voters).

      You do have a great point–as a gateway to other things, signs can be useful (Volunteer walks in for a sign, walks out with a canvass packet!). But signs THEMSELVES do not change election outcomes.

      Take a look at some of the resources, here, if you’re interested in reading more:

      Again, sorry for the misunderstanding. No flame intended.

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