Do campaign signs work?

“Are we paying too much attention to the signs? Or not enough? What can they tell us?,” Slate magazine writes.

“Under some circumstances, they can motivate people to vote. Before New York City’s 2005 mayoral election, Fordham University professor Costas Panagopoulos decided to take his curiosity about the effectiveness of signs to the streets. In the only known randomized academic experiment on the subject, Panagopoulos matched 14 pairs of Manhattan voting locations with similar turnout levels in previous elections.

“In each pair, he randomly designated one location as a control and the other as an experimental treatment: a small group of volunteers were dispatched to a nearby intersection, where they stood for 11 hours on election eve with white 2-foot -by-3-foot signs with “VOTE TOMORROW” written in blue. Once the polls had closed, Panagopoulos checked the numbers of votes cast in each of the 28 districts, and found that the ones visited by his sign-wavers had 37 percent turnout, nearly four points higher than those that didn’t.

“Panagopoulos attributed that boost to the value of a quick reminder and speculated that seeing one’s neighbors publicly promoting the cause might instill a sense of social pressure to vote. That’s why Panagopoulos designed his experiment to measure if signs could change behavior on the boulevard, rather than just inspiring an already convivial small-town Main Street. ‘Detecting environmental effects in New York City, the epitome of urban anomie, would produce more convincing evidence,’ Panagopoulos wrote.

The rest of the article is here.

Author: jeffpelline

Jeff Pelline is a veteran editor and award-winning journalist - in print and online. He is publisher of Sierra FoodWineArt magazine and its website Jeff covered business and technology for The San Francisco Chronicle for years, was a founding editor and Editor of CNET News, and was Editor of The Union, a 145-year-old newspaper in Grass Valley. Jeff has a bachelor's degree from UC Berkeley and a master's from Northwestern University. His hobbies include sailing and trout fishing.

4 thoughts on “Do campaign signs work?”

  1. While walking in downtown Grass Valley yesterday I noticed small signs in a couple of windows supporting Dan Miller and alluding to saving their business. Very well but I don’t see where Terry Lamphier has dissolved these businesses. I am pleased to see more of Terry’s signs going up around town and wish him the best.

  2. Hi Annie,

    Those signs in the windows are generating quite a bit of quiet discussion around town, among other merchants and customers, on a number of levels. (For background, Dan and his wife have co-owned a business downtown for many years).

    Here’s an article “Is putting politics on display bad for business,” referring to posting campaign signs at your business. It includes some remarks by the same political science professor quoted in the article above about the “risks and reward” analysis of doing just that:

    Some years ago the owner of the Flyers gas station put “Vote for Doolittle” campaign signs at the stations, and it generated some publicity — pro and con.

  3. Thank you Jeff. Great reading. I must admit I don’t patronize some businesses I used to because of the propaganda news papers, etc that exist in that business. I knew about Dan & wife co-owning a business and I wish them success but that banner is so “in your face”. Since these businesses seems to love Dan so much, I’m assuming he has done well for Grass Valley as mayor. Wouldn’t they want him to stay there?

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