Thursday, November 03, 2016

Signs of the Times


Understanding the subtleties of presidential polling is like trying to decipher the fine print on your cell phone bill.

Headache inducing.

I remain transfixed by the polls, however. Like many of my fellow Americans, I want to know how this insufferable bloodbath is going to turn out.

Well, the polls tell us Hillary Clinton is winning. No, wait, Donald Trump may be winning. But Poll A is using faulty data. And Poll B has a political agenda.

Poll C tells us Trump could win if the moon is in the seventh house and Jupiter aligns with Mars. Poll D is being manipulated by Russian hackers. Or maybe it’s North Koreans.

There is only one thing to do. Conduct your own research. Which is what I have done using the lightly regarded and completely unscientific PYS method.

PYS stands for Political Yard Signs and I spent the last couple of days prowling my Zip code and carefully tabulating the numbers of signs for each candidate.

My conclusions:  nobody is passionate enough about either one of these folks to stick a sign in their front yard.

I found two Clinton signs, two signs for Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson and none for Trump. Which is somewhat surprising since our neck of the woods is thick with Republicans.

Maybe people who support Trump are fearful that by displaying a sign they will be identified as racist, misogynistic no-nothings. Which, of course, they would be.

Or maybe it’s because, according to their web site, a Trump yard sign will set you back $20 to $30.  Clinton’s go for a more modest 12 bucks.

The most signs I saw in my neighborhood were in support of a local community college bond issue.  Apparently, there’s nothing like sprucing up the old junior college to get the juices flowing.

What does this all mean?  Very little as it turns out.

Phillip Bump, writing in the Washington Post, explained it this way:

“The problem with lawn signs, as any campaign manager would probably tell you, is that they are expensive, annoying, logistically tricky to distribute and — most importantly — don’t seem to do much of anything.
“Candidates like to feel as if they’re winning. Campaign managers like to know that they’re winning or at least making progress. So campaign managers like things that have either measurable effects on voters (like identifying targeted supporters) or demonstrated past effects (like advertising). Lawn signs don’t fit into either category.”

The Post story cited a study by Donald Green, a professor at Columbia University who has done decades of work assessing the utility of various methods of voter outreach. Green partnered with researchers at universities in Upstate New York, Pennsylvania and Virginia to test signs in four races at the federal, state and local level.

Their conclusion:  “[I]t appears that signs typically have a modest effect on advertising candidates’ vote shares — an effect that is probably greater than zero but unlikely to be large enough to alter the outcome of a contest that would otherwise be decided by more than a few percentage points.”

In other words, the next time you feel the urge to erect a political sign on  your front yard, remember this: you’re probably not going to change anybody’s mind. 

But this is a great country. Even the millions of voters who don’t like either candidate can express their feelings via yard signs.

There’s the “We’re All Screwed 2016” model, another that says “Vote Nobody,” the Uncle Sam model that declares, “I Want You to Stop Voting for Idiots” and one that offers three choices:  “I Am (1) A Democrat; (2) A Republican or (3) Drinking Another Glass of Wine.”

Finally, there’s a sign that declares in not so subtle language that “Everyone Sucks. The U.S. Is Doomed.”

Which just might be the prevailing sentiment next week.

Robert Rector is a veteran of 50 years in print journalism. He has worked at the San Francisco Examiner, Los Angeles Herald Examiner, Valley News, Los Angeles Times and Pasadena Star-News. His columns can be found at Robert-Rector@Blogspot.Com.

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