Before Albertans head to the polls on April 16, the landscape gets covered in election signs.
Do those signs serve a purpose or are they visual clutter? What are the guidelines for them?
Election sign rules
All campaign yard signs, billboards, portable signs and airplane banners must include the sponsor’s name and contact information, according to Section 134(2)(a) of the Election Act.
The sign must also indicate whether the sponsor authorizes the advertisement — and Elections Alberta says “the authorization text should be no smaller in size than 1:32 of the sign’s total height dimension to allow the statement to be read by the intended audience of the advertisement.” The authorization statement should be “clear and consistent in messaging,” Elections Alberta adds.
No font should be less than 36 point in size.
Are signs still relevant?
With such sparse election sign literature available, pollster Janet Brown and fellow political scientist Duane Bratt took matters into their own hands.
The duo conducted an experiment five years ago and wrote a paper for the Prairie Political Science Association to test this question: are lawn signs indicative of a riding’s end result?
With a team of students, they fanned out in Calgary to count lawn signs on private property during a period where the city held three byelections simultaneously, and again when there was a federal byelection.
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Brown said Tuesday that it’s not a perfect predictor of how people vote — but it’s a good one.
“In two out of three of those ridings, the lawn signs were a good predictor of who was going to win,” she said.
The “old school” signs still serve a purpose, Brown explained, because not everyone is on or engaged with politics on social media — especially since that media type can be an echo-chamber.
“Social media, for the most part, is focusing on the campaign at large, and there’s very few places that you can go to get a sense of how an election is playing out in your specific riding — and that’s where lawn signs come into play,” she said.
“It helps you figure out what riding you’re in, who the candidates are, which candidates seem to be the most popular, have the most support. We don’t have a lot of tools to help us understand what’s happening in our own riding and so lawn signs become an important one.”
Lawn signs can be important for other parties, she said, because they get drowned out in the dominant conversation.
“If I’m looking for some place to park my vote other than the UCP and the NDP, lawn signs are going to help me figure out who else is running,” Brown said.
“When I go online to get some more information about the candidates, the lawn signs will help me know who I should search for when I’m looking for that information.”
Signs spark conversations and demonstrate how dynamic a race is, she said.
“It gives me a starting point to do my research about my riding,” Brown said.
“It gives people a sense of where the action is when you know what your neighbours are thinking and feeling. It may prompt you to look a little deeper into your options.
“With so much media attention on the leaders, signs and door-knocking are really the two main tools that local candidates have to get their message out.”