Let’s get something out of the way first: For anyone out there who doesn’t love yard signs, they remain a necessity, even at the top of the ballot in presidential years.
In national contests, signs are an important mechanism for a candidate’s strong supporters to proclaim their preference. In battleground areas, they can help create a sense of enthusiasm for backers. And this cycle, they’re providing presidential hopefuls another source for a small-dollar contribution with both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton selling them online.
Stylistically speaking, yard signs haven’t changed a ton over the years. Fonts have remained set on either serif or semi-serif. Color schemes have stayed predominantly red, white and blue with a rectangular shape. But there are certainly some changes that have occurred in the last two decades. By observing these presidential cycle shifts, we can see an evolution that’s occurred in the industry.
Plastic Bag Signs
The ’90s saw the widespread adoption of plastic bag signs over the traditional fold over signs in large quantities. Price had a lot to do with the rise of the plastic sign: it’s the choice of any campaign ordering in the thousands or tens of thousands.
Stars and Stripes Aren’t Forever
In 2004, there was a high-water mark for using the flag in presidential campaign signs. During the primaries, both the Kerry and Edwards campaigns printed a full flag on their signs. The Bush-Cheney campaign signs also included Old Glory. Since then, some campaigns have printed signs that allude to the flag, but use of the image in the actual design has become less prevalent.
This year both major party presidential candidates make little reference to the flag aside from the generally patriotic color scheme. In other cases they are printing the flag on secondary products, including Donald Trump’s veteran-focused sign.
Perhaps the most easily noticed design change in the past twenty years is foregoing darker blues for lighter blues especially on the Democratic side of the aisle. Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and primary rival Bernie Sanders all printed at least one design with a light blue. For Republicans, though, it’s less popular. In fact, Trump is decidedly dark blue when it comes to his primary sign design.
Yard Sign Distribution
Perhaps the biggest change in yard signs isn’t the signs themselves, but the shift in how campaigns are using signs. Signs used to be “chum” that was handed out to volunteers or in many instances anyone who asked. This became a distraction for field staff, and it’s one of the reasons some consultants cite for their dislike of yard signs as a tool.
Many top-tier congressional and statewide races still purchase signs with the intent to distribute them for free, but that’s not what we now see at the presidential level. Campaigns at the top of the ballot have transitioned to selling their signs online.
Welcome to the future of yard signs. They aren’t going away anytime soon.
Ben Donahower owns Campaign Trail Yard Signs the authority on campaign signs, because we know politics not just printing.