Who Stole My Yard Sign? Who Cares?

August 2006
There are a few constants in politics than tend to hold true year in and year out, but none is as reliably consistent as accusations over missing yard signs. Every campaign, every election cycle, complains that their yard signs have gone missing. It's petty, it's stupid, it's irrelevant - and it happens every...single...time. The yard sign argument popped up again recently in Colorado Springs in the six-way Republican primary for congress (CD5). As the Colorado Springs Gazette reports:
The war over yard signs in the 5th Congressional District race took on new intensity Thursday when Jeff Crank's campaign filed a police report accusing one of Doug Lamborn's sons of pulling up one of its placards. Lamborn's campaign shot back that the Crank sign was in an illegal area and called the police report an "eleventh-hour, last-minute campaign stunt." ... ...Crank campaign manager Jim Banks said he and other workers were putting up signs along Garden of the Gods Road late Wednesday when they noticed a man acting suspiciously. When they realized it was Nate Lamborn, they followed him in a car for about an hour until they saw him pull up a Crank sign and then confronted him, Banks said. According to Banks, the sign was in the right of way in front of an Applebee's restaurant near the Garden of the Gods/Interstate 25 interchange. When Nate Lamborn was asked about it, he got into his car and drove away, Banks said. Lamborn campaign manager Jon Hotaling said the placard was on Colorado Department of Transportation property, which is illegal. Lamborn's son was merely taking down one of Crank's many illegally placed signs, as the transportation department itself did Thursday afternoon, Hotaling said.
This always becomes a big deal - internally, at least - because tensions rise and yard signs are one of the only real visual ways of measuring progress. It's hard to tell how well your campaign is doing sometimes, so yard signs can be the only available barometer (even though there is no real correlation between number of yard signs and which candidate eventually wins). If you see a yard sign up one day and gone the next, it can be frustrating, sure, but what difference does it really make? Are people really driving around going, "I count 17 yard signs for Joe Smith, and only 14 yard signs for Tim James. I'm voting for Joe Smith." Of course not. So why do people steal yard signs? Because it's an easy way to vent frustrations. After a long campaign and endless interactions with an opponent, sometimes campaign workers or volunteers feel better when they kick over a yard sign or yank one from the ground. You can't kick your opponent and get away with it, but you can always kick a yard sign with their name on it. I knew a candidate once who, in the last week of the campaign, drove his car up onto a median in a quiet neighborhood and ran over a bunch of his opponents yard signs (which were illegally placed in the median, but that's a minor excuse). Did it help his campaign to crush those signs with his car? No. But it sure made him feel better. While I understand the psychological reasons for taking yard signs, I don't understand why anyone thinks it is a good use of time to do it repeatedly. There are a lot of campaigns where volunteers or staffers spend an inordinate amount of time ripping up yard signs. And for what? What's more effective in the long run - driving around for two hours stealing yard signs, or walking door-to-door or making phone calls for two hours? Most of the time, in fact, stealing yard signs ends up backfiring. I remember a story from a few years back about a middle-age Republican couple in Wheat Ridge who were driving around at night stealing Democrats' yard signs from people's front lawns. The wife drove a truck with a shell over the bed, and the husband would jump out, yank the signs, and toss them in the back of the truck. Well, one night they were driving around and the guy went running across the yard, tripped on the pavement and fell face-first on the driveway. He knocked himself out cold. Somebody who heard the ruckus called 911, and an ambulance and a police car arrived. The police officer looked in the back of the truck and saw the yard signs as the fleet-footed sign thief was being attended to, and the couple was later charged with a misdemeanor crime for stealing the signs. Every campaign sees their yard signs go missing, and invariably people from the campaign get really upset about it. At the end of the day, it doesn't have any effect on who wins and loses (except for those who injure themselves stealing signs).