How to Get More Votes from Yard Signs

Yard signs are one of those things that every candidate wants.  But most yard signs I see are not used well and not well placed, like those in this picture.

“Location, Location, Location” that famous quote generally attributed to deceased British real estate tycoon Lord Harold Samuel, rings true to political yard signs as well.

Let me explain the best strategy for placing yard signs that I have developed in over 20 years of running campaigns.

The secondary commitment value of yard signs.

If someone says they are going to vote for you, it may be that they are not being totally honest with you.

Look, I am not trying to say that everyone is a liar.  I am not trying to be like my old college professor who used to always seem to take pride in telling us that “the masses were asses.” He claimed he coined the term – not something he should have been proud of if he in fact really did.

But I am saying that people don’t like conflict.  They don’t like to be mean to people, in general, and most folks try to be nice to strangers.

And when someone comes to their door, like a candidate, or even a campaign volunteer, asking for support,  there is a chance, not generally a huge chance, but a chance, and believe me some voters will do this, they will just say yes to as an easy way out and in an effort to move you along.

A lot of us figure, like the late mother of Forrest Gump said, it is just  “a little white lie” and won’t hurt anybody.

But hey, it does hurt somebody.  It hurts you and your campaign.  Because when you are trying to identify voters that support you so you know where you are in the election and who you have got to turn out to vote, you have identified “YES” votes that are actual “NO” votes.  That is a big problem.

Tribalism and the social influence of yard signs.

Ok, I realize we are now in the second decade of the 21st century.

But guess what?  We are not that far removed from our ancestors.  I don’t mean our great grandparents, I mean our very early ancestors.  Like those that hunted and gathered.

And guess what else?  We are still tribal.  Yes, people are tribal. I don’t care if you are a 49ers fan, a Raiders fan, a Yankees fan, or a Red Sox Fan.  Or even a Democrat, Republican, or a Green.  A Christian, Catholic, Muslim or Jew.  Live in a City, a county, or a country.  Use Facebook, LinkedIn, Foursquare  or not.  You belong to a tribe. We are all part of institutions, organization, professions that essentially  represents the modern equivalent of tribes.  We all, in fact, belong to 21st-century versions of early tribes.

And most of us that vote live in a neighborhood. Which, yes, is a tribe of sorts.   Which is exactly why yard signs work.  And it’s exactly what you should be considering when you place your yard signs.

Remember, “Keeping up with the Jones?”

If Mrs. Jones comes home and sees that Mrs. Brown has a yard sing for Jerry Garcia for School Board there is a good chance she might think, “Well heck my neighbors all seem to think Jerry is a good guy, maybe I should consider voting for him too.”

Ok, granted, if Mrs, Jones suspect that Mr. Jones and Mrs. Brown have been spending some unauthorized time together and if Mrs. Jones, in fact, hates Mrs, Brown maybe this won’t work.  But we are probably safe to assume that this is not the case in most neighborhoods across America.  I think most people actually like their neighbors.

Here is the point.  A neighborhood is an essentially a tribe.  Mrs. Jones, the Jones family, and Mrs. Brown, the Brown family, are all part of a tribe.  The tribe being the neighborhood.  Whether they know it or not or like it or not, they are in fact part of a tribe and influencing each other.

They influence each other on the upkeep of their houses, the cars they drive, the clothes they wear, and yes, who they vote for.

So to restate the point: People are influenced by social groups,  People are influenced by their neighbors on who to vote for.

According to a UC Davis study by Alison Ledgerwood, assistant professor of psychology, “Voters are influenced by friends, neighbors, and groups.”

This study uses subjects in simulated votes and opinions surveys at both New York University and UC Davis found that “when it comes to a decision about the distant future, peer group opinions carry a lot of weight”.

In other words, our friends and neighbors, people who we place value on – our tribe – influences our vote.

So yard signs can work by providing a level of social influence to voters

Where you should be placing yard sign

Place signs with yes voters.

Here is why.

Remember the UC Davis Study makes clear, voters are influenced by friends, neighbors, and groups.  Place signs with those “Yes” votes that will do you the best through social influence.

Try to get signs, and as many as you can, at the homes of “Yes” voters in all the precincts that you are targeting to win your election.

If you have precincts with a lot of undecided voters, find “Yes”  voters in those precincts and place signs in their yards.

You are using psychology here.  You want those “Yes” voters to inadvertently turn those undecided voters your way.

WARNING:  Don’t just assume because someone is a “Yes” voter they want a sign.

Make sure you have permission from all “Yes” voters before you place a sign in their yard.  Placing an unwanted sign in the yard of a supporters can turn that “Yes” voter into a “No” voter real quick.

Yard Sign placement follow-up

Please follow up with yard sign placement in an urgent and timely manner.

When someone says they want a sign don’t wait two weeks to get it in their yard.

Walkers should have signs handy and place them before they leave the field.

You should have a group of volunteers ready to place signs every few days at the homes of “Yes” voters that you have identified through your phone banks.

It’s amazing how many campaigns don’t do this right and never get signs out to voters.  It is a sign of disorganization that brings into question your ability to govern.

If you can’t fulfill a simple promise of delivering a yard sign, what other promises are you going to break?

Where not to place yard signs

Back to the UC Davis study.

Again, Alison Ledgerwood says “Voters are influenced by friends, neighbors, and groups”.

But as an election nears, the views of individuals become more influential.

“Tuning into what the person sitting next to you happens to think about an issue is a great strategy for getting along in the current context,” she said.

So, what does this have to do with year signs?

Two things:

  1.  Make sure, especially in the final weeks of the campaign, the yard sign is placed at the homes of “Yes” voters in targeted precincts where they can influence undecided voters.
  2. Don’t plaster your yard sign all over the countryside.  The reality is that you may be violating a local ordinance. Public maintenance workers will tear down your signs and your campaign will likely get fined.  You don’t need that hassle.

Placing yard signs at major intersections, thoroughfares, etc. is just a waste of time.

It is costly and gets you little return on your dollar.

Think of this.  Who drives through an intersection or down a thoroughfare?  A lot of people that are not registered to vote, don’t vote, or only work or shop in the community.  At the end of the day how many people that are actually voters are seeing your sign.

And frankly, even when a voter sees your sign at an intersection, if the see it at all, along with all the other signs placed there – including commercials signs like bail bondsmen, payday lenders, etc. – there is not social connection.  So the sign has little influence.  It’s only some fleeting name identification that is not going to be worth the price of the sign.

There is nothing tribal about randomly placed yard signs in public spaces. You are not putting them in a relevant tribal territory.

Yard signs belong in voters yards.

The picture at the top of this article is a great example of what not to do.

A final word on Yard Sings.

So when you are placing your yard signs go tribal and think LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION.

And take a walk through Alison Ledgerwood’s study.

I have been applying these tactics to my yard sign programs for over 20 years, and they were taught to me by hardcore grassroots campaigners back in the day.

They developed these tactics through trial and error, but they are tactics that have now been proven in academic research.

If you follow these basic theories in running your yard sign campaign you should give your campaign an election day boost.

And if you have not done so yet, download our free ebook 5 Secrets of Winning Campaign Signs.  It’ll teach you all you need to know about getting great signs for your campaign.

If you’ve got yard signs up or have a story that you’d like to share about your yard sign experience, please leave us a comment below the article.