One on One: Yard signs and State of the Union speeches: Wasted efforts?

by D.G. Martin

Chapel Hill, NC – They are a waste of time, don’t change anybody’s mind, and have little or no impact on the outcome of elections or the support of a politician.

Does this comment describe the impact of political yard signs on elections or the effectiveness of speeches, such as President Obama’s State of the Union message last week?

Or both?

A study on yard signs in political campaigns, co-authored by High Point University professor Dr. Brandon Lenoir, “shows political lawn signs have little effect on votes in a political race and no effect on turnout,” according to a university release. Professor Lenoir said, “Millions of dollars are spent each election cycle on political lawn signs. We wanted to see if the signs are worth the paper they are printed on. Turns out, the conventional belief that lawn signs win elections isn’t supported.”

He continued, “If more than a couple percentage points separate the two candidates, lawn signs will have no effect on the outcome of the election. Bottom line, campaign dollars are better spent elsewhere.”

So, are the yard signs we see in our neighbors’ yards each election season just a waste of the candidate’s precious campaign funds?

Political yard signSome experienced campaigners might disagree, pointing out that widespread coverage of yard signs helps build the spirit and enthusiasm of campaign supporters, workers, and the candidate.

And a good yard sign campaign can have a negative and deflating impact on the opposition. As a one-time candidate, I can tell you how humiliating it feels to see an opponent’s sign in the yard of a good friend, suddenly a former good friend.

Before discarding yard signs, candidates and campaign managers should evaluate their usefulness in building the campaign organization, recruiting supporters, and spreading the impression and reality that the campaign is on the move.

Even if the study really shows that yard signs themselves do not win elections, the energy and spirit they convey can move supporters and prospective supporters to do the things and provide the resources that fuel a winning campaign.

What about President Obama’s State of the Union message?

Did it make a positive difference in the President’s approval ratings or make a dent in congressional opposition to him and his programs?

Not according to The Economist magazine, which said, “No doubt, it reminded many of his critics, who represent around half of Americans, why they abhor him.”

So was the State of the Union speech a wasted effort?

No, the President needed to do for his followers what yard signs do for a candidate’s team: Boost their spirits and renew their commitment to support his presidency and his programs. After months of daily sledgehammer attacks by a host of Republican presidential hopefuls, each trying to outdo the others in criticizing every aspect of his actions and character, the President’s supporters needed a pep talk from him. They needed more than an emotional pulpit sermon. They needed a point-by-point rebuttal to the candidates’ barrage of criticism.

The President responded with a catalogue of accomplishments. The Economist summarized his effort, “America has not, Mr. Obama ventured to suggest, gone to the dogs. Its economy is the envy of the world. Its armed forces are unrivaled. So is its global leadership.”

The President noted many of his other achievements, including job creation, health-care reform, efforts to mitigate carbon emissions, and a list of others.

Even though he made no converts, he gave his supporters good reasons to stay on his team, be proud of his accomplishments, and dismiss the Republican candidates as panderers to the Obama-hating wing of their party.

In short he gave his supporters the same kind of boost they would get if they saw Obama yard signs in lawns all over town.


D.G. Martin hosts “North Carolina Bookwatch,” which airs Sundays at noon and Thursdays at 5 p.m. on UNC-TV. Preview the upcoming program on UNC-MX digital channel  (Time Warner #1276) on Fridays at 9 p.m. This Thursday’s (January 21) guest William Leuchtenburg, author of “The American President.” Next week’s (January 24, 28) guest is Ron Rash, author of “Above the Waterfall.”

To view prior programs:

For upcoming programs:

Upcoming programs

Thursday 5pm January 21 William Leuchtenburg, author of “The American President”

Sunday noon January 24 and Thursday 5pm January 28 Ron Rash, author of “Above the Waterfall”

Sunday noon January 31 and Thursday 5pm February 4 Sarah Shaber, author of “Louise’s Chance”