Are Voters Really Influenced by Political Signs?

written by on April 14, 2014

politicalsignsIf you are a living and breathing human being in the U.S.A, then chances are you have noticed the very recent onslaught of political signs that are cropping up in your neighborhoods, near your schools and outside voting precincts, on vacant property and along busy streets and intersections everywhere within your cities.  While the presence (or lack of) a single yard sign or cluster of signs within a neighborhood may indicate the level of support for a particular candidate, or how much money the candidate has, it’s hard to tell otherwise what those random signs are telling us.

Most signs typically don’t tell you anything about the candidate, other than the name of the candidate and the office which they are seeking. One wonders if random political signs even have the ability to influence a voter.

This leads us to a recent study we reported on in last month’s FYI on the “low information” voter. The “low information” voter has frequently been talked about in the media. They are known as a segment of the voting population that typically has little interest or understanding of political issues and maintains minimal to no exposure to news media which expose the candidates and the issues surrounding them.

While the FYI article only scratched the surface insofar as our findings, it deserves greater scrutiny. And, while we are on the topic of political signage, it begs the question, if candidates and political campaigns had greater intelligence on voters who could be swayed, could those political signs (and outdoor billboards) be more strategically placed? Who’s to say a more strategic approach in sign placement wouldn’t earn a few extra votes come election time if they were reaching the right target audience?

Across The Media Audit’s 81 measured metro areas, we identified nearly 12 million adults age 18 and over who voted in a local, state, or national election in the past year but who were not exposed to news media in the traditional sense– TV or cable news, newspapers, news or talk-formatted radio stations or public radio.  The figure represents nearly 13% of the voting population, but among some demographic segments, and in certain metro areas, the percentage who are considered “low information” voters is substantially higher. Such is the case with younger voters between 18 and 34 years old (nearly one in four voters had no exposure to traditional news media), and households with children under the age of six years old (see “Study Examines the “Low Information” Voter, The Media Audit FYI March 2014 on our website). If the “low information” voter truly represents the swing vote, then candidates in close races would pay particular attention to reaching the “low information” voter.

We found of particular interest that those who self-identified themselves as Independents were most likely to be “low information” voters. The study found that one-third of “low information” voters were Independents. Furthermore, “low information” voters indexed well below the average in following any type of sport or sports team—from professional to collegiate sports, to NASCAR, to the Super Bowl.  In contrast, voters in general were typically more likely than the general population to regularly follow sports – regardless if they were exposed to news media or not. For example, those who voted in a local, state or national election in the past year were 26% more likely to regularly follow college basketball, while 23% more likely to regularly follow professional football. Clearly, the “low information” voter looks to want to steer clear of either of the major political parties and disinterested in joining the ranks of sports fandom.

In numerous cities across the U.S., candidates in crowded contests are racing to billboards and political advertising is driving some outdoor advertising companies to near full capacity during this primary season. That’s good news for the outdoor industry.  Knowing specific characteristics of the “low information” voter might give a particular candidate just what they need in terms of where to canvass, and where to effectively place outdoor signage.

We delved deeper into the report to find that there is a greater concentration of “low information” voters among Taco Bell eaters as well as folks who drive Volkswagens and Saturns.  The study also found that renters who earn $75,000 or more in household income and vote are 48% more likely be a “low information” voter.  People who regularly shop for “green” products are also more likely to be “low information” voters as well as customers of specialty gourmet grocery stores such as Trader Joe’s (44%  more likely) and The Fresh Market (36% more likely).

Not surprising, the longer one lives in the same metropolitan area, the more likely they are to become an informed voter. Those voters who have lived within a metro area for less than a near are nearly twice as likely to be a “low information” voter.

With both political parties dissecting and analyzing segments of the voting and non-voting population, data like this offers greater insight, helping political advertisers reach the right audience not only at the right time, but the right place.

More perspective on this study soon.


  1. Daniel P. Mitchell says:

    Judging who Obama soundly defeated in each of his presidential elections, two men who had qualifications so far superior to his that it is just mind boggling. It is very obvious that winning elections is definitely a sales job to the uninformed. Possibly we as Americans should take a hard look at our election process.

  2. don brown says:

    Is there an underlying premise that people used to be more informed and all of sudden the millennials have entered the scene not caring who they should vote for? I suggest this is not news just people looking at old data. I was recently reminded that in the 50′s TV news programs were 15 minutes long (actually short because there was an ad for Camels inserted) and now we have umpteen channels using 24 hours to report the same thing ad nauseum. Is it any wonder the low informed are so vast.

    And Mr Mitchell presumes that ANY one has qualifications to be president and that ANY election is a NOT sales job. Having helped numerous politicos and social issues win, and lose, at the ballot box I can assure him the ‘right’ issue and enough money will win every time. Tell the people what they want to hear and tell them often and you will win. Ask the Koch brothers and Roger Ailes

    PS This was a great analysis. Thanks for doing it.

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