Every election sees political parties vying for votes by door knocking, with TV spots, roadside billboards, phone banks and, in recent years, social-media blitzes. But one tried and true way to gauge a party’s success in any given neighbourhood has always been the simple lawn sign.
And this year, just one week into the hotly contested Alberta election campaign, the sign wars are hotter than ever.
Both of the province’s leading parties say a record number of election signs have already been placed on lawns across the province.
Dave Prisco, director of communications for the United Conservatives, says that his party has received tens of thousands of requests for lawn signs throughout Alberta.
“We are seeing more requests for signs on private property than in all of the 2019 campaign,” he said in an e-mailed statement.
Likewise, Malissa Dunphy, a spokesperson for the New Democrats, says her party has had requests for more than 50,000 site locations already. By comparison, during the 2019 election campaign, the party had around 45,000 for the whole campaign and even fewer in 2015 when the NDP raced to victory.
“People showing their support on the ground like that is something new that we’re seeing with a lot of Alberta NDP supporters,” she said.
Mount Royal University political science professor Duane Bratt, who researched the level of predictability between political signs and election results in 2015, said they are important to a campaign, but not all signs are equal. He believes that, while anybody can put up a sign in a public space, signs on private property, like in people’s front yards or on their balconies, make a bigger impact as they show support from real people that are family members or neighbours to other potential voters.
“You’ve actually got a homeowner willing to put a sign on their lawn to demonstrate or support for a particular party, and that’s why it matters,” Mr. Bratt said.
In Alberta, election guidelines allow political signs in public spaces along highways and roadways with strict rules about size and distance from the actual street. On private property, people can put up yard signs as long as they include an authorization statement from the candidate’s campaign at the bottom.
He says political signs serve two purposes. First, they are a form of advertising that does not come from parties themselves but from individuals. While parties issue the signs, individuals are the ones promoting them personally inside their communities.
Second, they help parties gauge voter support since people with their signs on their property are likely voting for their candidate.
Mr. Bratt said while campaigns have evolved to catch people wherever they are, including the digital world, it does not overwrite the importance of the traditional lawn sign.
“The old-school campaign sign still works because you’re dealing with real people as opposed to digital ads,” he said.
Jeromy Farkas, a former Calgary city councillor, says signs are an essential part of any serious campaign. And getting them out as early as possible is important for building momentum.
“If there’s a certain area of the city that has your signs dominating in private and public property, that helps build momentum and enthusiasm for volunteers,” he said.
Mr. Farkas said during his 2017 campaign there was a correlation between the number of private signs issued and the neighbourhood vote tallies.
“The signs follow the votes,” he said. “In areas where I had more signs, particularly on private property, I had more votes.”