How Many Political Yard Signs Does Your Campaign Need by Ben Donahower

By at September 20, 2011 | 5:22 pm | Print

How Many Political Yard Signs Does Your Campaign Need by Ben Donahower

There are two truisms about yard signs: field staff hate them and little old ladies love them.  So who do you believe when you decide how many to buy?

If you would ask a field staff person why they dislike yard signs they would tell you that lawn signs don’t vote.  If you asked the volunteer or supporter why they like them they are proud to tell their friends and neighbors that they are supporting your campaign publicly by placing a yard sign in their lawn.  In addition, political scientists have found that yard signs increase candidate name recognition.

How well known is the candidate?

Name recognition is critical for candidates.  It’s the first step in identifying a supporter and ultimately getting the voter to the polls.  Campaign lawn signs increase candidate name recognition.  Mel Kahn’s, political scientist at Wichita State University, research into yard signs found that they establish name recognition “at the grassroots level.”
Yard signs are less important for incumbents than for challengers and first time candidates.  Clergy, local business people, lifetime residents, and other community leaders won’t need as many yard signs other candidates in small races.  In elections with more than a few thousand voters, however, only the most well-known candidates will have high enough name recognition without using tactics that increase name recognition including candidate lawn signs.

Will local pedestrians and drivers see the political yard signs?

Campaign Sign on a Highway MedianCampaign yard sign on a highway median

If the district is rural, voters won’t often see the bandit signs.  On the other hand, very urban districts where there isn’t the ground to stake them into do not need many yard signs either.  Use rally signs in supporters’ windows instead.  Finally, it’s important to think about the type of traffic that will see the yard signs.

Now, let’s do the numbers

In this example, a fictitious candidate for city council is calculating how many yard signs the candidate needs.

  • 30,000 voters
  • 40% expected turnout
  • 52% vote goal

Your district may be larger or smaller, so you will need to substitute the numbers of voters, turnout percentages, and vote goals for your specific district.

To calculate the number of political yard signs that your campaign needs, multiply the number of voters, by expected turnout.  Then, multiple the product by the vote goal.  Political yard signs have been shown to increase name recognition by six to ten voters per lawn sign, so your final calculation is to divide by six.  If your lawn sign budget is tight, you can divide by up to ten.

30,000 x .4 x .52 / 6 = 1,040 yard signs

 

Political Campaign Lawn Sign Calculation WorksheetCampaign Sign Calculation Worksheet

 

In off year elections you will have a lower turnout than in presidential, Senatorial, and gubernatorial elections where the turnout will be high.  The expected turnout number will change the number of yard signs needed dramatically.

Also, depending upon the election, there will be a lot candidates on the ballot, and therefore, a lot of yard signs in voters’ yards.  You will need a well-designed yard sign to cut through the noise of so many other campaign lawn signs and you should also divide by six or seven to determine the number of signs that the campaign needs.  If your running in an off year election with only a few candidates on the ballot, you can safely divide by seven or eight reducing your need for lawn signs by more than a third in this example.

Tip: The Victory Store suggests purchasing one bandit sign for every 30 registered voters.  This is a great back of the envelope calculation that will more often than not be in the range of the above calculation.  You’re best off to use this quick calculation when crafting your campaign budget and use the more sophisticated calculation when it’s time to order lawn signs.

3 tactics to reduce your political yard sign order

  1. Only place signs on private property
  2. Minimize yard sign placement on rural roads
  3. In residential developments, place signs on exit and entrance roads only

Conclusion

With limited resources, campaigns need to give some thought to each purchase including campaign yard signs.  If your campaign needs to increase the candidate’ name recognition, yard signs are proven to do so.  The calculations above will help you conserve your resources since you will only be purchasing the amount of yard signs your campaign needs.

Ben Donahower is the founder of Campaign Trail Yard Signs, which cuts through the campaign yard sign confusion. What do lawn signs do well? When are they more trouble than they are worth? Just honest answers, so that you order useful political yard signs in the quantity your campaign needs. Ben is an authority on marketing for political organizations and has worked on campaigns from borough council to President

Follow Ben on Twitter  @iapprovethismsg

Management & Strategy

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  • Dotty LeMieux

    The answer the question posed by the title of this article is None. You do not need yard signs. What you need is a good message delivery system, usually that means mail, sometimes TV, radio or web ads, and old-fashioned “retail” politics. Signs are a luxury, one step up from “swag” (buttons, tee shirts and the like). Yes, they help with name recognition, but as someone said in another article: Signs don’t vote. They don’t deliver a message either, and if you spend all your money on signs, and skimp on mail and media, you lose.

    Unless none of the other candidates have mail or media either, then you c an make the “sign wars’ the lead story on the night’s news. Those races are the small ones, and even then, if you’re the one with mail and a precinct/phone operation, you’re ahead of the guy with the signs by a mile.