Do (non election related) lawn signs work?
August 21, 2017 12:47 PM   Subscribe

Does anyone have a feel for (or even better - a source for!) whether lawn signs affect/change people's opinions? I'm specifically interested in signs about things like city zoning or rebuilding, not in political/voting related signs. Google gets me a lot of results for the latter, but I haven't had much success finding what I'm looking for.

I'm skeptical that these signs can have much of an impact, since they're by defition NOT about issues that people can vote on. Sure, people could call city hall or whatever and express their opinion, but that's about the most influential action they could take (and something the majority of people don't do anyway).

But if investing money in lawn signs is actually a useful approach, I would like to use it!
posted by chemicalsyntheticist to Law & Government (16 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
There was a proposed road extension a few years ago in a Columbus suburb that residents organized against using yard signs. The proposal failed. It was called the Ackerman-Zollinger (A-Z) connector in Upper Arlington, if you'd like to research it further. UA citizens tend to be extremely engaged and civically active, so I'm not sure how well it will translate, but it's definitely capable of working in certain environments.
posted by kevinbelt at 12:53 PM on August 21, 2017

I have a Black Lives Matter sign on my lawn. I'm white in a somewhat integrated suburb. I don't have it to convince anyone that black lives matter. I have it to demonstrate to my neighbors who are black that I think their lives matter, and to acknowledge that they can't take that for granted. It's also to show white people who might be getting iffy information about the (cough) alt-left that mild-mannered professional white people with straight jobs and whatever can stand up for social justice too.

Maybe it just makes people think I'm a douche, actually, but I say all this to explain why I have it.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 12:54 PM on August 21, 2017 [10 favorites]

I think of lawn signs not so much as changing opinions but as raising awareness. For example, a person might have zero idea there was an off-cycle school levy coming up unless they saw some yard signs, which reminded them, oh yeah, there's a school levy on a random Tuesday in March! Or similarly, I do not think BLM signs are going to convert hardcore racists, but might make other neighbors aware that this is a safer/friendlier household. A big sign thing in my area recently has been around attempts to redistrict a neighborhood as "historic" -- which apparently comes with various restrictions on homeowners in how they can remodel their homes. I imagine this is the sort of issue that almost no one would independently know/care about, but after you see a yard sign, you might be motivated to look up the website and find out more, and then potentially take action if that new information so motivates you.

Unfortunately I'm not aware of specific social science research on this -- most of the "changing minds" type research has looked more at actual conversations between people, which obviously is going to be more high-impact than a sign in a yard. So, if there is a particular local issue you ARE passionate about, talking to your neighbors about it is probably more likely to have an impact (bonus: it's free and you get increased neighborhood social capital!)
posted by rainbowbrite at 12:59 PM on August 21, 2017 [3 favorites]

For issues/candidates that aren't saturated in local or national coverage, effective signage has prompted me to google the keywords/names presented on the sign and find out more.
posted by lalex at 1:01 PM on August 21, 2017 [5 favorites]

This gay brown immigrant is heartened by signs that remind me that this is, indeed, my home.
posted by tivalasvegas at 1:06 PM on August 21, 2017 [16 favorites]

In order to answer your question, it'd help to define your terms. What does "work" mean? "Useful approach" to...what? What is it you want to accomplish with a yard sign? Do you want to make people want to act, or would it just be to make you feel like you're doing something?

Basically, figure out what it is you want to accomplish, then work backwards from there. I think signs can be effective, but at least for me, the sign has to be asking me to do something, not just to "raise awareness". In other words: Okay, I'm aware you have a stance about something, thanks to your sign. Now what?
posted by pdb at 1:23 PM on August 21, 2017

Thanks everyone for the great answers. I'd like to echo the comments of several others: signs encouraging inclusivity seem to serve a useful role without any "mind changing" expected or requested. To me, at least, it's a concrete positive to see my neighbors being inclusive and welcoming. I didn't have those signs in my mind when asking this question, but am thinking more of signs that demand action ("stop the rail line" or "no teardowns").
posted by chemicalsyntheticist at 1:23 PM on August 21, 2017

+1 for general awareness. I don't care particularly that the fancy neighborhood has strong feelings about the proposed high-rise, but, by god, I know they have signs and bumper stickers about it.
posted by Jacen at 1:24 PM on August 21, 2017

To pdb: that's essentially the core of my question. Do these signs "do" anything if it's not a simple action that I can actually complete? A "vote no on issue x" sign can make a difference in an outcome on a vote. A "vote for candidate x" sign can influence voters. What about signs that aren't about voting (or whatever specific action)? Something like "no rail here!", "stop the highway", "no more mansions", "don't rezone"... things that you can't vote on, can't influence personally, but could theoretically call your representative and tell them your opinion.
posted by chemicalsyntheticist at 1:31 PM on August 21, 2017

Signs are not particularly effective at influencing others. They are a way to get someone invested in something. A sign proclaiming your favor for candidate X, ballot measure y, community issue z does little to change someone's mind. But, if you have such a sign, you are on a ladder of engagement. If my campaign approaches you and you ask for a sign, that means I can probably ask you for a donation, or to sign a petition, or to show up to a zoning board meeting.

They are like NPR tote bags. No one learns about NPR from a tote bag, but the person that owns the tote bag is more likely be invested in the success of NPR that they will donate again or call their congress person when threats of defunding come up.
posted by munchingzombie at 1:37 PM on August 21, 2017

Because of yard signs I have personally said the following:
foreach foo in ("an asphalt plant", "power lines","a gas pipeline",
                "a different set of power lines") {
      print "I guess a lot of people are upset about $foo around here.\n";
And have subsequently googled more about it later.
posted by All Out of Lulz at 1:42 PM on August 21, 2017 [3 favorites]

What a sign would do is let me know, as a relatively unengaged citizen, that there's something I might want to know about. There are some town politics things I pay attention to (schools, libraries) and follow the players, and others (zoning) that I'm pretty ignorant on. But if a friend says "hey, have you heard they want to build X over near Y?" and what's wrong with it, I might get involved. One yard sign I might not notice, but if I see a dozen of them, I definitely would look up the issue, and if it was on my mind and someone mentioned it to me, I would go to the relevant city council meeting to state an opinion. (I have actually done this, not because of a lawn sign, but because of an email blast.)

So yes, putting something on my radar can be the first (of several) steps to turning me into someone who acts on the issue.
posted by gideonfrog at 2:45 PM on August 21, 2017

When I used to live in an affluent area of west LA, the only lawn signs that made it through the noise were me were "for your consideration" lawn signs in awards season. Mostly because I thought, "Oh neat, they must work on that show/movie, I should check that out."

I suspect that's the case for a lot of more niche-y lawn signs; if you have a sign on your lawn for city comptroller of your small town, your neighbors will think, "Gee, this person must have some reason to care about comptrolling and I don't know what that is [full disclosure: I don't either], maybe I should look into it/ask them about it." I think for big national or statewide races and issues it doesn't make such a difference.
posted by potrzebie at 2:53 PM on August 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

I would think about it this way: If in modern times, city officials might gauge how the public feels about an issue by checking the comments on the city Facebook page or Twitter, or if people might let others know there is an issue they think their community should pay attention to on social media, then lawn signs were the precursor to that. They were how you showed you cared about something in a public way before there was a better way to do it. I think it's about creating a public perception -- "hey, my neighbors care about this issue, so maybe I should too" -- and raising awareness about it, and it's still a very visual way of accomplishing it.
posted by AppleTurnover at 4:03 PM on August 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

About a month or so after I moved to Memphis (just over two years ago now), I started seeing lawn signs that said "Save the Greensward." The Greensward is sort of a public greenspace in Overton Park which is sort of like a public front yard. The Memphis Zoo (also in the park) for some years had been charging people to park on the Greensward as overflow parking and ruining the grass for public use.

The signs are all over the city, but most prominently in peoples' front yards. There has been movement and successful pressure for the city and the Zoo to implement alternate parking plans.
posted by honeybee413 at 6:50 PM on August 21, 2017

There's a campaign in my city to stop a major infrastructure project involving storm drainage -- the signs seem to have proliferated to the point where it's impossible to not see them in affected neighborhoods and electeds are taking notice. To this observer, just the sheer volume of signs has made the strong, widespread opposition to the project very visible and I would not be surprised if the project is delayed, altered or sent back to the drawing board entirely.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 8:00 AM on August 22, 2017

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