Yard signs are grass roots democracy

Hold that hammer, political activist, before driving that yard sign into the ground. Your life and your sign may be in mortal danger.

Not everybody likes those political poppies that compete with dandelions and crabgrass as the most hated of unwanted exhibitions on neatly trimmed yards. Most of the time, the intruders don’t match the yard decor.

According to a nationwide survey conducted by ShieldCo, a sign company located in Maryland, one-tenth of the neighbors are so irritated by yard signs that they would destroy your sign if the police department was on strike.

The greatest danger is in California where 49 percent of the neighbors are irritated by yard signs. Better take a lookout with you if you are working Los Angeles.

On the other end of the popularity spectrum, the people of Arkansas could care less about yard signs – only six percent. We will not speculate about this accommodating opinion except that perhaps one more discordant item on Arkansas yards may be an improvement.

And guess what? Right up there next to Arkansas is the second most tolerant state – North Dakota with 12 percent. There is no logical explanation for this level of tolerance in a state that has not yet gracefully accepted the native people.

We are not a confrontational people, made so by the adversities of pioneering a barren land that tries to kill us every winter. There were so few settlers that they could not afford to have enemies. That’s why settlers never had yard signs.

In Montana, South Dakota and Minnesota, the numbers of irritated neighbors are 29, 40 and 42 respectively – right up there with the rest of the intolerants.

While some citizens are irritated by this grass roots display of democracy at work, there are a couple of benefits to yard signs. In the first place, they tell 86 per cent of the neighbors what your political preferences are. That makes it possible for neighbors to avoid embarrassing confrontations. They help keep the peace in this age of polarization.

Getting back to democracy, candidates for public office are already confronted with serious geographic problems. Legislative candidates are running in districts where mass advertising is impossible or expensive, maybe both. The localized nature of yard signs makes it possible for them to use at least one medium.

With a stint in advertising early in my careers, I had the opportunity to deal with outdoor advertising. Mostly billboards but billboards are just big lawn signs. Frankly, half of the political yard signs are not effective enough to earn their keep.

Since yard signs are somewhat unpopular anyway, the best we can do is provide a good design. The creator gets four points. That amounts to four words or the equivalent thereof.

Typical wording on a yard sign: Elect Herb Dexter State Senator. District 24. Lower taxes. More benefits. Balanced budget. Vote November 7.

We have 16 points that must be pared down to four. Strike “elect” and “Vote November 7.” Let’s hope the voters already know there is an election November 7. If they don’t, they are likely nonvoters anyway.

As for “District 24,” the yard signs wouldn’t be put up in any other districts so that’s extraneous rhetoric. As for the six-word platform, those items belong in a different medium.

So now we have “Herb Dexter State Senator.” (We could even cut “Herb” if there is no other Dexter running.)

This simple yard sign will become the distraction of the neighborhood. After all, that is the function of yard signs – to distract. The better the sign, the greater distraction.

All of this being said, good citizens should support their local yard signs.

Lloyd Omdahl is a former lieutenant governor of North Dakota and former political science professor at the University of North Dakota, Grand Forks.

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