With election day two weeks away, political signs are proliferating. Some candidates treat them as life or death — berating people who erect signs for opponents, feuding over sign theft and vandalism
But do signs move voters?
UALR political science professor Art English and John Yates, a Democratic campaigner, set out to get at answers to the question with surveys of 350 voters at six major voting precincts in Little Rock in 2012. It wasn’t a scientific sample, but the survey attempted to see where signs ranked among other factors, from others types of advertising to news coverage, in voter decisions.
Did voters believe signs were an indicator of how much support there was for a campaign? Interestingly just about 50% of our respondents believed there was a strong connection between the number of campaign signs for a candidate and the amount of support a candidate had for their campaign. On the other hand 50 percent thought there was no connection at all. Was this simply a draw? Not really. This small piece of information tells us a lot about both traditional and modern media campaigns. The number of signs on behalf of a candidate made an impression on how half of our exit voters perceived the strength of their campaign. Since perception often translates into reality, does it follow that the amount of media ads a candidate runs will have a similar effect as well and in some fashion strongly influence a voting decision? Simply and logically the answer would seem to be yes.
ON the other hand ….
What about the amount of influence signs had on voting decisions as this was our original question. Only 49 out of 271 respondents or 18% said that signs had some influence on their vote that day. 82% said no. [Those who were influenced tended to cite local or judicial races.]
What was striking about our findings though were the few voters who said that direct mail, television advertising, and radio ads influenced their vote. 185 of our respondents—-well over half—-ranked television advertising low in its influence on their vote. 115 marked it as having no affect on their vote at all. That was a third of our interviewees. Voters ranked candidate direct mail to their home, political radio and signs with even less influence. In fact a good portion of what we know as modern political media including the social media which voters also ranked low were apparently not the key factors influencing voter decisions. If it was not media advertising what then did these exiting Little Rock voters say most influenced their vote. One hundred and eighty two of our respondents said party identification heavily influenced their vote. 91 voters said it was the determining factor in their vote. Other influential variables cited were personal conversations with friends and family and having met the candidate personally, prominent aspects of the traditional mode of coming to a voting decision.
What does it all mean?