Campaign signs worth 1.7 percent

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It’s a sign of the season.

Not those gorgeous autumn leaves drifting down or the jack-o’-lanterns popping up.

Yard signs. Political punctuation marks reminding you that an election is lurking in the not-so-distant future and here’s a guy or gal who wants your vote.

As a Press story told readers Friday, yard signs come and yard signs go. Theft of signs or outright destruction of them is seemingly part of the political process. Candidates wail and the heavy hand of the law is with them, because stealing these signs carries with it the threat of fines and/or jail, depending on the value of the signs and, of course, whether or not the perp gets caught.

Almost as soon as our story was posted on cdapress.com, a commenter lamented the fact that political sign-posting is even legal.

“Personally, I’d never vote for anyone who advertises themselves on a campaign sign,” she wrote.

But here’s the thing about campaign signs: In a really close election, they might be just effective enough to determine the outcome. At least, that’s the conclusion of a 2015 Columbia University study of four randomized field experiments.

According to the study, lawn signs boost voter share by an average of 1.7 percentage points. If you’re going to win or lose an election by 15 or 20 percent, logic would seem to dictate, that investment in 100 lawn signs is probably a waste of $2,500. But if you’re in a closely contested battle, particularly in a high-turnout race, that little bit of name recognition might matter.

We invested an hour on the internet researching successful campaign strategies. There are literally hundreds of suggestions for campaigners, from local unpaid elected positions all the way up to the presidential platform. For being so pervasive across the American landscape, political signs don’t register much among that sea of campaign strategies. But they do crop up from time to time, and as much as we’d love to see every candidate flock to The Press to invest in digital and print ad campaigns, we realize most fire and highway district candidates aren’t working with much of a war chest.

So let’s agree that campaign signs can be an eyesore. In themselves, they tell voters almost nothing about the candidate. But in Kootenai County, particularly during the low-turnout, ultra-local races headed our way Nov. 7, every advantage might matter.

Besides, that little thing called the First Amendment could get in the way of sign prohibitions.

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