This election, some very rich people have made some very big offers for elusive materials. LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman said he would donate as much as $5 million to veterans if Donald Trump released his taxes before the final presidential debate. Larry Flynt promised to pay up to $1 million to anyone who comes forward with a "scandalous" tape starring Trump.
I, too, am on the hunt for my own white whale: Any person registered to vote in the United States of America who has chosen a candidate based purely on a campaign sign.
While I can't tempt you with the same bounty as Flynt or Hoffman (the best I can do is my leftover Halloween candy, but we did buy the good stuff: Snickers and Reese's Peanut Butter Cups), I don't think it really matters, because I'm confident that no one will ever step forward. Think about it: Has anyone ever told you they were set on voting for Candidate A, but saw a sign for Candidate B and suddenly changed their mind?
Of course not. So really, what is the point of campaign signs?
Maybe you think campaign signs spread the name of a candidate, and might get a few people to Google them if they can remember the proper spelling. But that's the best case. Lawn signs don't offer any insight into the candidate's policy views. They don't help your neighbors learn where a candidate stands on the issues. And the signs rarely even state the person's political party. These political eyesores don't relay any information that responsible voters require when it comes time to choosing a candidate.
So what are they good for? A few things: Littering public spaces, keeping Staples and Office Depot in business, and making you hate your neighbors.
Campaign signs cluttering empty lots and fences are bad enough, but it's so much worse when they infiltrate where you live. First, there's the self-centered aspect of it: Yard signs have a very "my opinion is more important than yours, and I'm going to force it upon you every time you are near my house" feel about them. This could cause resentment among neighbors who are of the opposite political persuasion, and lead to retaliation. Then there's the whole aesthetic thing — neighborhoods are supposed to contain colorful flower beds, freshly mowed lawns, and American flags. Your ghastly campaign signs in their brash colors with questionable typography spoil the whole look. If I wanted to surround myself with advertisements, I'd live in Times Square or on the side of a busy freeway.
Look, you can do whatever you want on your property (as long as you abide by the law, of course). But these campaign signs won't change anyone's mind. They are pointless — and ugly.
And then there are the signs in public spaces. Some towns have ordinances regarding signs and how quickly they must be removed after an election. These rules should be adopted by all cities. Why should people have to look at a sign for a failed campaign — or even a successful one — months later?
Candidates think they need to plaster their names all over creation to connect with voters, but there are so many better ways. In local elections, hold meet-and-greets and set up booths at fairs and market nights. Actually go out there and knock on doors, and get to know the constituents you hope to one day represent. Send out emails with facts about you and your campaign, and solicit concerns and opinions. Show people you actually care, not that you had $50,000 to blow on signs that, aside from your name, tell voters little about you.
I know you're with me. You think these signs are terrible and pointless, too. So let's make a pact: The next time a candidate offers you a sign, even if you think he is great and you are definitely voting for him, just say no. You know it won't do this candidate a bit of good if you put that poster on your lawn, in your window, or affix it to your mailbox. It won't change anyone's mind, even the undecided. If the campaign pushes, let them know nothing in this world is free, and if they want to rent some space in your front yard for an advertisement, you accept cash, check, or PayPal. I'll still detest your sign with a burning passion, but will respect the fact that you made a buck or two off of it.