Midterm Elections Show Value of Print
Midterm elections aren’t usually as interesting to the public as a presidential race, but the congressional elections still draw much publicity. Not only was control of the two houses of our federal congress at stake this time, but many important state and local offices were up for grabs, as well.
I knew that this last election would be exciting. How did I know? All the signs were there. Signs, literally.
Yard signs are a time-honored and relatively unchanged aspect of political campaigns. Unlike almost every other facet of electioneering, yard signs haven’t yet descended into the swamp of mudslinging, name-calling and hate-mongering.
Yard signs may very well be the best indicator of the success of a political campaign, and one of the most effective means of advertising.
Unlike public opinion polls, to which anyone can respond without much thought, yard signs are only displayed by people who feel strongly about an election and about a particular candidate. People who display a sign are highly likely to actually make the effort to vote. After all, they made the effort to acquire and post the sign.
Anyone can rant and rave on social media the instant a thought pops into their head — and often before. A sign in someone’s yard means they have thought long and hard about this election, made a call to the campaign office or at least responded formally to a campaign worker’s request.
A yard sign makes a statement to your neighbors. It is the opposite of social media, where people feel isolated and insulated, and make obnoxious statements that they would never make in person. A yard sign tells everyone nearby where you stand, and it does so with brevity and a modicum of dignity.
I don’t think the protocol for candidate yard signs is written down anywhere, but the standards are fairly strictly observed. Most yards signs are 26×16˝, although larger signs are found in the yards of the candidates themselves and their campaign workers.
They are typically printed offset, although the standard design hasn’t changed much since the days of letterpress. Heavy coverage, two-sided, or actually one-sided printing with two coverweight sheets pasted together or mounted on board. Metal legs affixed between the sheets have mostly replaced wooden lathe to keep the sign firmly anchored in the ground in your front yard.
Recently, I’ve noticed some signs printed flexo on plastic for better weather resistance. This is a great example of selling the virtues of one printing process over another. The process changes, but the product stubbornly remains the same.
Yard signs are generally one-color, occasionally two, and prominently display the candidate’s last name. Their first name and/or the elected office being sought may also be displayed in smaller print. A small elephant or donkey will sometimes appear, or the name of the political party.
That’s it. No ranting or raving, no slamming or even mentioning one’s opponent.
Party officials may pepper their lawns with signs, but they aren’t typical. Joe or Jane Committed American Voter usually put only one or two signs in their yard for the races about which they care most.
In the closing days of a race, everyone becomes numb to the endless radio and tv ads, the cable news and talk radio pundits, and even the postcards and billboards. A sign, however, is personal. Don’t think your neighbors don’t notice. This is especially true in local races … and, as master politician Tip O’Neill famously observed, “All politics are local.”
“I’m busy,” thinks the guy next door. “I just don’t have time to research the candidates.” He has zero trust in the mainstream media, but he knows you root for his favorite football and baseball teams, and your kids go to the same school, so you must know something. That yard sign conveys the information he needs.
He knows how you’ll be voting, so he doesn’t even have to ask. Without uttering a word, the posting of signs influences voters at the micro level. The savvy campaign operator knows that if he can get just three or four people on a block to put out signs for his candidate, he’ll probably carry the neighborhood on election day.
Liberal or conservative, socialist or free-market, there are some enduring issues upon which almost all candidates agree. One of these, apparently, is the value of print.
Steve Johnson, president and CEO of Copresco in Carol Stream, Ill., is an executive with 40 years of experience in the graphic arts. He founded Copresco, a pioneer in digital printing technology and on-demand printing, in 1987. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.copresco.com