Is sign stealing effective political strategy?


It’s a darker political tradition that’s getting a lot of attention after Delaware state Senator Bethany Hall-Long’s husband was arrested for campaign sign stealing.

Hall-Long’s husband, Dana Armon Long, was caught on camera stealing signs that encouraged residents to “Vote Republican.” After the video was forwarded to Middletown Police, Dana Long is now facing misdemeanor theft charges.

“It happens all the time, all over the country,” said Paul Brewer, associate director of the University of Delaware’s Center for Political Communication.

As far as campaign strategies go, “I think it’s a pretty ineffective one,” Brewer said. The reward isn’t worth the risk. “Is it going to make that huge a difference if a few yard signs are gone? No. And if you get caught, especially if you’re connected to a campaign, the blowback could be quite extensive.”

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

It’s not immediately clear whether Hall-Long, an incumbent Democrat, will lose ground to her Republican challenger John Marino.  Marino posted a statement on the Friends of John Marino Facebook page stating, “We’ve run a clean campaign, focusing only on the issues, and we’ll stay that course all the way to victory.”The role of campaign signs

Like the turning of the leaves, the ubiquitous campaign signs have long been an easily identifiable sign of the changing season. The signs serve three purposes for candidates, according to Brewer. 

The first purpose is to build name recognition through repetition. That’s why nearly every intersection has the same set of placards bearing candidate names. “They see your name, they see your name, they see your name, it gets in there through repetition.”

The signs also serve as a form of endorsement, like when your neighbor puts a sign on their front lawn. “If you see a lot of signs for a candidate, that sends a message: ‘People I know, people that are like me support this candidate.'”

Thirdly, the sheer volume of signs a candidate has on the side of the road can be seen as a sign of legitimacy, Brewer said.

“People see all these signs and say, ‘Ah, this candidate has a lot of support out there, so if I vote for this candidate, I’m not going to waste my vote on somebody who doesn’t have a chance.'”

Like them or not, political signs are with us for the long term, especially in a state like Delaware where it’s cost-prohibitive to get campaign ads on television. Because the state is included in the Philadelphia and Baltimore TV markets, any advertisement funds spent on TV ads would be wasted on millions of voters who can’t even vote in Delaware.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal