VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – Campaigning for the upcoming municipal elections is now in full swing — and you may notice a few more lawn signs popping up here and there.
But do they actually affect voters and their behaviours?
UBC Political Science professor Richard Johnston says we don’t definitively know what impacts lawn signs have.
“But they do a couple of things that are relevant to the choice,” he says. “First of all, they get the name out there.”
That may seem like an obvious answer, but Johnston adds that can be especially helpful in places like Vancouver, where 158 candidates are vying for 27 positions.
“If certain names get serious recognition, they’re going to get some sort of reflection of that in their standing in what is a 10 past the post election,” he says with a laugh. “The other things is, the mere appearance of signs with the same colour and logo will be interpreted by some people as a signal about the viability of the individuals in the group.”
“You might have an inclination to vote on the left or on the right, but if you just can’t see any evidence of a campaign by someone on your side of the ideological spectrum, how will you know what to do? So signs, at least, are a signal about viability.”
He equates the practice of putting lawn signs out to some folk remedies — a lot of it comes down to putting signs out because that’s just what has always been done.
Johnston says a candidate would be ill-advised not to use lawn signs, even if we don’t definitively know what their affects are.
“It is a relatively low-cost way of signalling that you have support in the community,” he explains. “Actual householders have taken the trouble to accept the sign, possibly incur a certain amount of disapproval from their neighbours — so that’s a good thing. And the sign, once it’s put up, unless there’s vandalism, the sign stays up at no marginal cost.”
Social media and campaigning
As more and more advances are made, Johnston says things like social media have changed the landscape when it comes to campaigning.
And he adds it’s happened so quickly, and so recently.
“The contrast, for example in U.S. politics between 2016 and 2012 is the things that’s taken everybody aback,” he tells NEWS 1130. “But at this point, I don’t think we can say that we’ve really unpacked it that much.”
For one, he points to social media habits on standard platforms and the fact that the majority of people’s use of it is mainly personal, or A-political.
“So we are talking about a relatively small niche of the overall social media volume that is any political content whatsoever.”
He says there is still a ways to go to see what the potential can be.
Worries over changes to campaign finance laws
B.C.’s changes to campaign finance laws may prove to be a challenge for candidates and parties trying to raise enough money, Johnston says.
The province introduced legislation last year banning corporate and union donations at the municipal level.
“I’m wondering if the campaign finance laws will be a disaster,” he says. “Because no entity can receive the large sums of money that, for example, Vision Vancouver was able to process. It may be harder for any entity to kind of be a coordinating force in civic election the way that, say Vision was over the last decade. What’s more, because it’s harder for everybody to raise money, there will be less money raised.”
“Money is the mother’s milk, right? Money is how you buy advertising, money is how you buy lawn signs.”
He’s worried the provincial government has “set the ceiling so low,” that it’ll be hard for candidates and their parties to actually raise enough money.
“I’m worried that actually this is going to be one of those elections where people are going to have trouble noticing what’s going on. It doesn’t help that there are so many candidates competing for the campaign buck.”
In Vancouver, Johnston worries the large number of candidates running may impact the election negatively.
“With so many voices, rather poorly-funded voices at that, that citizens will find themselves somewhere between not being able to hear anything on one hand, and hearing too many low-intensity messages on the other hand.”
He believes the people would be better served by a few main robust “partisan forces” so voters have a chance to actually hear a message.
Election day across B.C. is Oct. 20th.