Campaign signs for the mayor are already out. Will they help or harm?

Studies have shown that lawn signs help with name recognition and can have an effect in tight races.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Campaign signs for the Salt Lake City mayoral election have popped up all over the neighborhood. Several signs can be seen on Tuesday, June 6, 2023.

This story is part of the Salt Lake Tribune’s ongoing commitment to finding solutions to Utah’s biggest challenges through the work of the Innovation Lab.

With Salt Lake City residents months away from voting for a mayor, dozens of signs have sprung up in neighborhoods and busy intersections touting candidates for the city’s highest elected post.

Former Mayor Rocky Anderson announced last year that he would be running for a third term for mayor more than a decade into his second, challenging incumbent Mayor Erin Mendenhall, who announced her re-election campaign in April.

Months before the November election, signs for Anderson and Mendenhall are popping up all over the city – sometimes in droves seemingly overnight.

Tim Chambless, who taught courses in the political science department at the University of Utah and the US’s Hinckley Institute of Politics for decades and still teaches some political science courses, hasn’t seen as many turf filings as far before an election in the many decades he has lived in Salt Lake City.

He said lawn signs could be a mixed bag.

They can help because they raise awareness, he said.

“People who are generally aware that an election is coming up will say in the back of their mind, ‘Oh, I saw that lawn sign over there,'” Chambless said.

But when lawn signs become weathered or blown about, they can become a nuisance, he added.

They’re still widely used because they’re felt to help rather than hurt, Chambless said.

A 2015 study found that the signs scattering neighborhoods might not make as much difference, but could make a difference in a close race.

The study, led by Donald Green, a political science professor at Columbia University, claims to be the “first rigorous evaluation of lawn sign effectiveness.”

The researchers worked with four campaigns in different elections to conduct experiments that focused on a total of 376 counties in New York, Pennsylvania and Virginia.

Based on the combined results of the four experiments, lawn signs are “on par with other low-tech campaign tactics, such as direct mail, that … produce effects that tend to be small in magnitude,” the study states.

Lawn signs were found to increase vote shares by a little over a percentage point on average — an effect the study describes as “modest” and “probably not large enough to change the outcome of a competition otherwise discussed by several.” votes would decide.” than a few percentage points.”

Another 2011 study found that name recognition, including through lawn signs, can give candidates an edge in political elections where voters know little about the candidates.

The study, by Vanderbilt University political scientists Cindy Kam and Elizabeth Zechmeister, found that individuals prefer candidates with better known names and think candidates with better known names are more viable.

Kam and Zechmeister conducted three laboratory experiments and a small field experiment in Nashville, Tennessee, for their study “Name Recognition and Candidate Support”.

Kam said the information is important to candidates and their campaign teams.

“With limited resources, campaigns must decide how much to spend on signs, buttons, bumper stickers and other strategies designed to promote the candidate’s name to the public,” Kam said in an article the university published about the study published. “Our study suggests that such efforts can pay off.”

For well-established companies like Mendenhall, name recognition is usually not a problem. But Anderson hasn’t held elected office in more than a decade, Chambless said.

Justin Scaccy

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