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Yard signs are the bane of most consultants and campaign staffers, but they don’t have to be if you approach them with the right attitude.
If you’re asking whether or not they win votes and benefit the overall campaign, you’re likely to see yard signs as a frustrating distraction and a waste of precious resources. After all, the scientific research into yard signs has yielded mixed results. In fact, we don’t really know whether they make a difference in overall campaign performance.
Whenever answers are elusive, it’s often because we’re asking the wrong questions. So instead of debating the macro effects of yard signs on the overall campaign, it’s far more constructive to focus on their micro effects: How yard signs can be leveraged effectively to change the behavior of individual voters and win new supporters.
So how might we use social and situational influence techniques to you keep your yard signs working?
People look to others for cues about how to behave, including how to vote. Yard signs are a good way to demonstrate support. But it’s not about blanketing the neighborhood with signs or about having the most on the block. All it takes is one sign and one exposure to demonstrate that a campaign has some support. This effect is likely to be strongest in places where the candidate’s name recognition is lowest and where signage can simultaneously boost general awareness.
Yard signs can be used to reciprocate – and thereby encourage – specific supporter actions such as donations, social media engagement, block walking, and calls or letters to the editor. Any gift or favor creates in the recipient an unconscious sense of obligation to return that favor. So don’t ever give away a yard sign for free without at least collecting the recipient’s contact information and making a small ask.
Periodically tell your supporters that you’re almost out of signs. Then increase the size of your ask or stage a competition with the “final few signs” as prizes. If yard signs are in high demand, supporters will be willing to do more to obtain a scarce and exclusive commodity. This technique also works well with highly desired campaign swag, especially when limited quantities are available.
The Foot-In-The-Door Technique
Here’s how it works: if you start with a small ask that’s likely to generate a yes, people are more likely to respond favorably to a larger ask to which they would otherwise say no. This works because most people have a strong psychological need for consistency. So when someone agrees to put up a yard sign, it can serve as a stepping stone to even greater involvement – but only if you follow up right away with a larger ask.
Your field program is a numbers game. It’s only by using these psychology techniques consistently throughout the campaign that you’ll tip the odds in your favor. Just as important, focusing on how yard signs influence individuals, rather than elections, should help restore a little sanity to the great yard signs debate when it inevitably erupts in your campaign.
David Rosen is the founder of First Person Politics, a consultancy that specializes in the strategic applications of political psychology. Follow him at @firstpersonpol.