Friday, July 3, 2009

Why Do Political Campaigns Still Use Yard Signs?

Part 1 of our 10-part series: “21st Century Campaigning”

Since the beginning of American elections, there has been a presence of campaign images displayed to support a particular candidate or party. While it’s difficult to say for sure, modern yard signs may have been used as far back as the 1920s or earlier.

Yet in all this time there has been relatively little research done (with a few notable exceptions from pioneering grad students) on the effect yard signs have on a campaign's success.

Conventional wisdom - for many, at least - is that yard signs help build a candidate’s name recognition. They also, in theory, help a voter make a decision based on who’s lawn the yard sign is posted on (for example, if it is a conservative neighbor who has posted the sign, and the voter is conservative as well, he would likely feel comfortable voting for the candidate advertised in his neighbor’s yard).

This may be quite accurate for local races. The smaller the race, the greater the impact the sign might have. But for state and federal races, yard signs really don’t persuade many people. They’re actually very ineffective in those terms.

If you don’t believe it, ask yourself when was the last time you made a voting decision based off a yard sign. You probably never did.

And with yard signs being more expensive than canvassing, phone calls, and direct mail, it’s not likely that campaigns are going to rely on such “conventional wisdom” without doing a little cost analysis first. (e.g. How much money do we have? What can we spend it on to get the most number of votes per person?)

Ultimately yard signs - under most circumstances - just aren’t cost effective for these purposes.

Except campaigns still use yard signs.

If they can’t persuade voters, what reasons do campaigns have to use them?

There are a few different theories to answer that question.

One recent study by Costas Panagopoulos of Fordham University finds that posting street signs which remind people to vote actually pushes higher voter turnout. This is something of an extension of an earlier study (Henson, 1977) that explored the relationship between yard signs and turnout in Omaha.

If higher prevalence of yard signs means higher turnout, then certainly the GOTV relevance would be a driving factor for campaigns to consider.

Except there’s no guarantee that higher turnout means more voters supporting your campaign. The liberal who occasionally forgets to vote may be reminded by a sign for a GOP candidate, or a conservative might remember thanks to a Democrat’s sign.

Some studies - as well as our own experiences - also find that yard signs can be very important for new candidates because their prevalence demonstrates the campaign’s ability to organize - something very important for their credibility.

Political campaigns might also be encouraged to produce yard signs because they’re so well grounded in American elections. In fact, a 1997 study (Kenny and McBurnett) says that in addition to television ads and other modern forms of campaigning, candidates will produce yard signs, bumper stickers, etc. because they also “let tradition guide them”.

But it’s not tradition for the sake of tradition is it?

Probably not. The truth is the prevalence of your yard signs vs. that of your opponent’s does have a meaningful impact. That’s because activists (the volunteers and donors) are very supportive of this tradition. If your campaign has fewer signs, they’ll be more discouraged about your prospects for victory, thus they’ll be less motivated to walk neighborhoods, make calls, or give money.

Additionally, the larger the campaign, the more some activists will want your sign in his or her yard - to the point that they’re willing to cover the cost. This was seen most recently in the 2008 presidential election when neither the Obama nor McCain campaigns were quite so willing to give out a lot of yard signs for free.

In fact, the Obama campaign went so far as to charge $5 for a sign, and people got them anyway - and in huge numbers. Obama was a particularly inspiring candidate and the laws of supply and demand allowed his campaign to charge for a product that would otherwise be completely free. Simply put, he was so inspiring that there was actually a demand for his yard signs - a demand you could put a price tag on…literally.

So just because a yard sign isn’t going to directly effect a voter’s decision (especially in the technology age of the most impressive television ads, web design, and mailers ever seen) they still hold a great importance. Sure, political professionals are adapting to new methods of campaigning, but the old ones still have value.

And that’s a good thing. For the political individual, yard signs are fun to put up on the lawn, and it would be a shame to see them go away.

It just wouldn’t be autumn in an even-number-year without them.

Come back for our Tuesday post on phone banking!

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Does the Democratic Hierarchy Lack Diversity?

There’s an interesting new article in the latest edition of Campaigns and Elections, the insider magazine for political consultants. Even in the Obama era, the vast majority of consultants in the Democratic Party are still typically white men.

Despite a handful of firsts for African-American consultants over the past two decades—Minyon Moore’s post as political director of the DNC during the 1996 cycle, Donna Brazile’s elevation to campaign manager for Al Gore in 1999, Howard Dean’s naming of Cornell Belcher to the DNC’s top polling post in 2005—several of the black political consultants and operatives interviewed say they still often feel like a suspect class in the eyes of many major campaigns and by some in the party committees. Absent new efforts from within the Democratic Party and from within the black political community itself, they don’t expect that to change anytime soon.

The article explains that most jobs held by African-American strategists within the Democratic establishment are for ethnic-targeting pursuits, often for minority-majority districts. Yet “the reality for many black consultants, says Belcher, is that they can’t speak out against people they want to work for. Too much criticism of the party establishment and the consulting industry carries risks, especially for younger operatives hoping to build a name and a career.”

Furthermore, the American Association of Political Consultants says that of its 1,123 members, only about one-in-five are women.

Luckily, things do appear to be changing, and without any specific efforts to increase diversity on the part of the upper-levels of the Democratic hierarchy.

A new generation of African-American operatives has graduated from the Obama campaign. As they work their way into the elite levels of government and politics, many see a golden opportunity to diversify the top tier of the political industry.

“In the twenty years that I’ve been working in politics, I haven’t seen a time where we’ve had such a deep bench of African-American operatives who can work in politics,” says Steve Hildebrand, who is white and was Obama’s deputy campaign manager in 2008.

Similarly, many in the first wave of black consultants (including Moore and Brazile) came out of the first Jesse Jackson campaign in 1984. With a successful campaign for the nation’s first black president, the advancement of African-American political workers might have another boost in years to come.

And with organizations like EMILY’s List recruiting progressive women for campaigns, the prevalence and prominence of women within the Democratic establishment of consultants may increase soon as well.

Still, some warn that the success of the Obama campaign might tame concerns of minority and female advancement in these ranks. After all, it was an incredibly diverse campaign, but it still had huge numbers of white men within it (granted, it was far more proportional to the demographical make-up of the U.S. than usual).

What’s more, relying on the Obama campaign might not be wise for diversifying the larger Democratic Party. As we mentioned in a previous post, many Obama operatives from 2008 are not so willing to work for politicians other than the current president.

Hopefully, though, the progress some see will continue.

Not too surprisingly, the article had a lot less to say about the demographical trends of GOP consultants.

We recommend reading the entire article here.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

21st Century Campaigning: A New Series

Now that July has come, WAYLA is introducing its third series, “21st Century Campaigning!”

Every few days we’ll bring you a new post as part of this ten-part series on campaign tactics and methods that drive a successful election effort. The topics will include…
  • Phone Banks
  • Small vs. Large Races
  • Fundraising
  • Campaign Ads
  • Public Relations
  • Polling
  • Voter ID
  • Get-Out-the-Vote (GOTV)
  • New Media Strategies

In the age of “on-demand” where the consumer - or for our purposes, the voter - has more control of what he/she sees than ever, how do campaigns convince Americans to vote for them? With campaign finance reform, how can they still raise money? With the decline of landline telephones and newspapers, how are political professionals transitioning from conventional campaigns to 21st Century ones?

These will be the tough questions we ask throughout the series. We'll look at the histories of these different campaign strategies and dive in to how American politics is adapting to the ever-changing world.

Join us Friday for our first topic: Yard Signs!

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Political Fundraiser Ends in Chaos!

There’s a bizarre new story out of Cardiff, California today. Last night at a house party fundraiser for Francine Busby - a Democratic candidate for California’s 50th Congressional District - police not only arrested the host and a guest, but pepper-sprayed several attendees.

From what it looks like, this is how it all started: a conservative next-door neighbor started shouting “disparaging remarks” about Busby and gays earlier in the evening (the host, Shari Barman, is openly gay and lives with her partner, Jane).

Then the neighbor called the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department at 9:33 PM to issue a noise complaint, telling the deputy that a loudspeaker and cheering was keeping him awake. Of course, the microphone Busby used to speak to the guests had been off for over an hour, and all other neighbors in the area said they didn’t hear anything (including one who slept through the fundraiser, and another who had her windows open).

Soon enough, the Sheriff’s deputies arrived on the scene and confronted Barman about the noise complaint.

“When [Deputy Marshall] Abbott arrived, [Sgt. Thomas] Yancey said, he told Barman about the complaint, and she uttered an expletive about a neighbor. Abbott asked Barman for her birth date so he could issue a noise warning, but Barman refused to give it, he said.

Barman tried to walk away, Yancey said, and Abbott grabbed her. The guests took Barman away, and Abbott used pepper spray on them. In the chaos, someone kicked the emergency response team member, a woman who is 5-foot-2, Yancey said.

‘He was pepper-spraying the faces of anyone who tried to talk to him,’ Busby said. ‘People were stunned. It was something that none of us has experienced.’

In her statement, Barman said she asked the deputy why he needed her birth date, because he knew her name and where she lived.

‘He told me I was under arrest, grabbed my right arm, twisted it behind me and threw me on the ground,’ she said.”

So they called dispatch and soon enough they had six more patrol cars and a helicopter for backup!

In defense of the excessive response, Yancy told the San Diego Union-Tribune that the deputies felt threatened with so many guests in the house. “We don't like people standing behind us – we have tasers, guns, clubs,” he said.

Barman was “arrested and jailed on suspicion of battery on a peace officer, and resisting, delaying and obstructing a peace officer.” One guest, Pam Morgan, “was arrested and taken to the Encinitas Sheriff's Station, where she was cited for resisting, delaying and obstructing a peace officer.”

Now the story gets kind of political.

Busby told the press that she would demand an explanation from the Sheriff’s Department for their actions. Yancy responded, saying “If Francine Busby was there, why not take a leadership role, step up, and nip this thing in the bud?” Busby shot back, saying she couldn’t really intervene because the deputies were pepper-spraying the crowd indiscriminately.

Finally, in an update this morning, the Sheriff’s Department released a statement saying they would conduct an internal affairs investigation.

Now, anyone who has ever attended a small house party fundraiser will understand just how crazy this story really is. The house is typically packed with happy, middle-aged donors who come to see their candidate speak and socialize with one another. According to the reports, this one was no different.

Except that it ended with the host being arrested and dozens of guests getting pepper-sprayed or tazed.

But it does speak truth to a simple concept - political activists (who make up the bulk of these sorts of fundraisers) have very strong feelings about their beliefs. That’s why the conservative neighbor went so far as to call the cops on the liberals, and why the liberals refused to comply with the normal procedure for such a complaint.

We can’t even imagine the headache this story will cause the Busby campaign staff.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Who Are You Looking At in 2012? - Results

Thanks to everyone who participated in our survey! We got a lot of interesting perspectives and predictions for the 2012 GOP presidential nomination.

The winner, at 18%, was Gov. Sarah Palin (R-AK), the Republican Vice Presidential nominee in 2008. According to one respondent, “Palin is the front runner, since [the GOP] didn't have a really great speaker during the Republican Convention, [there is] no way of gauging the possibilities.”

A sudden surprise front-runner was former Gov. Mitt Romney (R-MA) who lately has been making a surge in media coverage. Yesterday on Meet the Press he told David Gregory he was not considering another presidential campaign, but according to Politico today, “many of his loyalists expect one and remain at the ready for 2012.”

Romney also made a point of criticizing Gov. Mark Sanford (R-SC) for his recently-revealed affair with a woman in Argentina. He said that governors must be held to a “higher standard” because “the culture of the nation” can be hurt by their failings. It certainly seems like something a Republican presidential candidate would say in order to appeal to the culturally conservative base in preparation for a primary.

In fact, everything about his spotlight appearances cry “campaign.” From the first Politico article:

Whenever Romney has a major TV appearance or pens an opinion piece, a PAC staffer, Will Ritter, circulates the news to an e-mail list of the former governor’s extended political family…

…When Romney does a high-profile Sunday show like he did yesterday, for example, that means that former communications aides such as Matt Rhoades and Kevin Madden will join PAC spokesman and longtime adviser Eric Fehrnstrom to help prepare their old boss, either in person or over the phone. When he’s delivering a speech, as he did earlier this month on national security, other former campaign officials such as media consultants Russ Schriefer and Stuart Stevens are brought in.

And Romney is looking good within the Republican Party. Many see him as a good pro-business candidate that can legitimately attack the Obama economic strategy.

But Romney isn’t the only one reaching out to the media. Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R-MN), who tied for a surprising last place in our poll, has also been making headlines in political circles.

He recently made his own criticisms of Sanford on CNN.

And he made sure to let the nation know that he was ready to certify Al Franken as Minnesota’s Democratic Senator once the state’s high court issued their ruling. This should help him with his credentials as being less partisan. In fact, one of Pawlenty’s major selling points will be that he isn’t so in-line with the far-right - thus he’s electable. That could be a major plus in a Republican primary in 2012.

All-in-all, these media outreach efforts are right out of the traditional presidential campaign playbook. In a 1972 memo to then-Governor Jimmy Carter, aide Hamilton Jordan wrote

“[I]t is necessary that we begin immediately to generate favorable stories and comments in the national press…Once your name begins to be mentioned in the national press, you will not lack for invitations and opportunities to speak in major groups and conventions…[The press’s] recognition and acceptance of your candidacy as a viable force with some chance of success could establish you as a serious contender worthy of financial support from major part contributors.”

Other names that came out of the survey were Gov. Bobby Jindal (R-LA) (if the GOP is ready for a minority candidate), former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (who one respondent said was one of the only Republicans on-message at the moment), House Minority Leader John Boehner, and former Gov. Tommy Thompson (R-WI) who ran in 2008.

We’ve already discussed Jindal’s chances in previous posts. He may have to secure his popularity with his Louisiana constituency first. Although the other three candidates are possibilities, we’re not putting much weight behind their chances. Gingrich and Thompson both left their political careers a while ago and they both have sex-scandal skeletons in their own closets. Boehner probably won’t run seeing as he already has a powerful position in the House.

Several respondents said they had “no idea” - it’s far too early to tell. That’s probably a good answer. A couple mentioned General David Patraeus. The General would certainly be a strong candidate (in theory) for a GOP primary, but it is definitely unlikely that he would leave the military for a political stint.

Outside of our survey there are other names being thrown around, including former Gov. Mike Huckabee (R-AR), Sen. John Thune (R-SD), Gov. Mitch Daniels (R-IN), and Gov. Haley Barbour (R-MS) who recently replaced Sanford as Chair of the Republican Governors Association.

It’s no surprise that most of the names being mentioned are governors. Republicans in Congress are particularly unpopular these days and historically governors have had an easier time in the presidential field because of the lack of a voting record to attack.

Huckabee and Daniels may have an especially good chance. Huckabee won the Iowa Caucus in 2008 and is a recognizable figure in national politics. His populist message and program at Fox News give him ample opportunity to succeed with the conservative base. Daniels, though not well-known outside his own state, has an acceptable record as governor and - unlike many Republicans - hasn’t yet given Democrats much to attack him on. Thune may have difficulty with name recognition, but his ties in Washington would be useful. Barbour is unlikely to make it outside Mississippi, however, because he is a former tobacco lobbyist.

Another surprise from our survey was the frequent mention of Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) as a Vice Presidential candidate. He is called a “rising-star” who is on-message and speaks well to the base. He also is known for introducing Republican solutions so the GOP does not appear to be the “Party of No.” As a Congressman, he probably wouldn’t be a viable presidential candidate (House members seldom are) but he is frequently mentioned in the national press and couldn’t refuse the opportunity to be on the ticket if he is asked. Dick Cheney even mentioned him in a recent interview - before any other Republican - as a young, talented politician who gives the party hope.

Thanks again in taking part in the survey! As 2012 comes closer we’ll keep up-to-date and look back at these results and our own analysis.

UPDATE: An interesting new Pew Poll finds that two of the previously mentioned Republicans - Palin and Gingrich - are fairly popular within the party, but extremely divisive otherwise. A third - Romney - is fairly popular overall, but just less than a third of respondents could not say whether they had a favorable or unfavorable view of him yet.

Needless to say, these results are good for Palin and Gingrich as far as primary prospects go - as long as electability isn't a principle concern to the GOP base - but not so much when it comes to a General Election. The public's opinion of Romney will no doubt further develop as the 2012 race comes closer.