Do campaign signs actually influence Sacramento voters?

Experts discuss the role of lawn signs in a world of TV ads and social media

Experts say campaign signs in empty lots generate little influence with voters, whereas signs on home lawns provide a sense of grassroots momentum.

Experts say campaign signs in empty lots generate little influence with voters, whereas signs on home lawns provide a sense of grassroots momentum.

You know it’s election season in Sacramento when your neighborhood becomes ground zero for the latest campaign lawn-sign wars.

This year’s battle for front-yard real estate heading into next Tuesday’s primary election is a doozy, especially in East Sacramento, where seven candidates vie to succeed Councilman Steve Cohn, who’s running for Assembly after 20 years in office. A drive down H Street in East Sac is like a who’s who of local political electioneering.

Candidate Cyril Shah has raised the most dollars in the District 3 race, so it’s no surprise then that he appears to boast the most lawn signs in the neighborhood. He’s spent more than $5,000 in the past couple months on them, according to finance reports. The look is sharp, and the design is straightforward: His last name in large lettering and “city council” in smaller font. Nothing too flashy.

These signs are by no means alone, of course. And the sign wars are not exclusive to the east side, either.

Rick Jennings and Julius Cherry’s sign feud in District 7’s Pocket-Greenhaven neighborhoods are Waterloo-esque. And if you leave Sacramento’s city limits for Yolo and Placer counties, all sorts of lawn signs abound (see photo: an intersection just across the I Street Bridge in West Sacramento’s Broderick neighborhood).

Competitive candidates might individually end up spending upward of $15,000 on lawn signs during an election cycle. But do they make a difference in how people actually vote?

One veteran local politician running for office this year told SN&R they think signs are more about “stroking a candidate’s ego.”

You’re driving home after a long day of work and see the signs and, this candidate says, it motivates—but it doesn’t influence voters all that much.

Other experts say signs do have an impact.

Andrew Acosta, a political consultant who’s managing Shah’s campaign, among others, says signs help build the perception of momentum and connectivity.

“I think campaign signs are great to help engage your supporters and get a sense of real grassroots support,” he said.

Other strategists agree. Longstanding local consultant Phil Giarizzo says that even in this day-and-age of social media and smartphones, lawn signs remain part of the electioneering mix. “The effectiveness of lawn signs has been passionately debated for years,” he said. “In today’s cluttered world of communications, lawn signs are one tool to help increase name identification and demonstrate voter support.”

Not all signs are created equal, however.

“Signs just scattered in vacant lots are not really the best use of campaign resources,” Acosta said.

Every once in a while, theft of campaign signs becomes an issue. This happens each election cycle, which is perhaps a testament to a sign’s relevance.

As Yolo County supervisor and political consultant Matt Rexroad joked on Twitter this past week, “I’m doing it again. I’m going to stay up all night and steal political yard signs all across the state.”

He ended his tweet with the hashtag #SignsMatter.