Political signs have little impact on elections, expert says

Yard signs on Second Street in Moorestown, New Jersey, support the Republican slate, topped by Bob Hugin for Senate and Tom MacArthur for Congress.

Yard signs on Second Street in Moorestown, New Jersey, support the Republican slate, topped by Bob Hugin for U.S. Senate and Tom MacArthur for Congress. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

This time of year, political signs clutter yards and roadsides.

Do they really work?  An expert in the field said if it’s a close race, yes. If not, no. And if you are planting a “get out and vote” sign, don’t waste your time.

Political scientist Donald Green of Columbia University has studied races where candidates ran out of money and didn’t put signs in every corner of their district. The lack of signs did not seem to make much of a difference, he said.

“It doesn’t have an effect on voter turnout, but it does have an impact on vote share,” he said. “It won’t cause a candidate that is trailing by 10 points to have an astonishing comeback, but it would make a difference in a close election.”

On average, lawn signs increase vote share by 1.7 percentage points.

Green also reviewed efforts to bring people to the polls via Election Day signage.

“The interesting fact is that they work very little, it doesn’t seem to be the case that people fail to vote because they don’t know it’s Election Day,” he said. “It’s really more a fact of motivation as opposed to lack of awareness.”

Despite these numbers, campaigns still spend a lot of time and money planting signs.

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