Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Political Sign Battles

Seward Highway, between Northern Lights and Benson, was one of the battlegrounds in the fight over Proposition 1.  On the Benson corner, were the No folks.

On the Northern Lights corner were the Yes folks.

I couldn't help thinking this was like going to a college football game.  There were the good guys (your team) and the bad guys (the other team.)  You sat on different sides of the stadium and yelled for your team and against the other team.

The political sign version includes cars driving by the sign holders and honking if they like the political message, sometimes even waving.  Sometimes showing a thumbs down.

What strange ritual is this?  I thought about it while I was there.  First, Alaska has no billboards, so yard signs and corner demonstrations take the place of billboards.  But the level of discourse between the two sides and between the sign holders and the drivers was the same level as the Bruins and the Trojans.  Or Palestinians and Israelis.

Signs don't expand the rational debate.  But I suspect they impact the emotional debate.  Clearly seeing a group of people holding signs for what you believe must give a sense of solidarity.  And if your position is an underdog position, it's probably encouraging to see your side represented - the more signs, the more encouraging.  I suspect people weigh how the election is going by the number of sign wavers for each side.  And, the ability to get folks out onto the streets is an indicator of how much support each side has. It's about winning and losing, about power, not really about the impact of the different tax schemes on the state. 

Any Proof Signs Matter?

Not a lot.  One professor, Costas Panagoloulos,  did some experiments in New York that say they do, but I'd like to see his findings replicated in other places before I whole-heartedly accept his findings.  Here's an excerpt of a 2012 NPR interview:
SIMON: How did you measure the effectiveness of yard signs?
PANAGOPOULOS: What I designed was a randomized field experiment that randomly assigned to different voting locations in Manhattan during the 2005 mayoral election - to be treated with street signs that said, Vote Tomorrow, that encouraged people to vote. These were nonpartisan signs held up by groups of volunteers at strategically selected precincts. And then after the election, we measured voter turnout, and compared those places where we had volunteers with street signs to those places where we did not have volunteers with street signs. And we found that turnout was significantly higher in those voting locations and precincts where we did expose voters to street signs.
SIMON: But isn't getting someone to vote different and, in a sense, easier than getting them to vote the way you want to because of a street sign or yard sign?
PANAGOPOULOS: Well, I think what we wanted to demonstrate was that this particular technique - holding up some type of sign - can be effective. Now, we had a nonpartisan message. We assume that a partisan message could have been as effective - perhaps it would have been more effective, if anything. But our first cut at this was to see if they could be effective. And given that we found that they are effective, we now presume that they can be effective as partisan messages to promote a particular candidacy.
Instead of waving signs at corners, I'd like to see the active campaign volunteers of both sides sit down for dinner together - six per table - and let voters see videos of their dinner discussions.  That would give a lot more information than signs with slogans.  And the volunteers would find out that 'the enemy' was more rounded and human than they expected.

For instance, I suspect the assumption held by some that oil company employees are all going to Vote No isn't all that accurate.  It's probably true that the most vocal opponents of Prop 1 work for oil companies or subcontractors.  When I went to the public testimony for HB 110, an early version of SB 21, all the people speaking in favor, identified themselves as connected through work or family to the oil industry.

But no employer is universally loved by their employees, who see all the warts of their bosses.  And even though the oil companies, as reported in the ADN, have been sending out emails telling their employees to vote No - I imagine a lot of the employees might disagree or just resent their employer telling them how to vote.  (In today's paper, it says,
"Companies supporting the tax cut were shuttling workers to the polls in vans . . . but officials said they had not told the employees how to vote."
While I was looking for evidence of the effectiveness of sign waving, I found this anti-sign waving blog post that included this tidbit:
I actually have been a sign waver in the past, but only when strongly encouraged to do so by an employer with substantial financial interest in a certain candidate. I did so begrudgingly and hated every minute of it as I tried to fake a smile at drivers who mostly just wanted to get to home as soon as possible without having to send a half-hearted greeting my way.
People with the Yes signs wondered how many of the No sign holders were there as part of their job.  And when someone waved an Alaska flag among the Yes signs, it was suggested the No folks should have a British flag.  See, what I mean?  It's like football fans finding ways to out do the fans of their opponents.

I did see a man near the Yes signs who looked familiar.  Then it hit me - he looked like Vic Kohring.  I don't think I've talked to Vic since the trial.  We had a brief but cordial conversation.  I realized later that I didn't ask why he was standing with signs in mid-town Anchorage if he's running for a Senate seat in the Valley. I checked, now.  He's running for US Senate, not state senate, for the Alaska Independence Party slot.

And I met one of Don Young's Republican primary opponents - John Cox.  Forrest Dunbar, the Democratic house candidate who's unopposed in the primary, came up to say hi and I got this picture of the two of them.

I asked Cox about the gun he's wearing.  He told me he's a strong open-carry advocate.

I should be done now, but after my afternoon in the sign battles I couldn't resist posting this picture I ran across when I got home by Polish artist Pawel Kuczynski published (with other pictures) at The Mind Unleashed.

While there are a lot of informed voters, this picture depicts some of the uninformed.  Not to mention those who have dropped out of voting because they don't see the point.  We'd have a lot different country if they voted.

Art by Pawel Kuczynski; image from The Mind Unleashed

 The election equivalent of the grass these days is "JOBS."

NOTE:  For those wondering - especially after the previous post - I was holding a Yes sign.  I'd been called and asked to help out and I don't believe that blogging should cause me to give up participating in the political process.  Pretending I don't have a position on issues doesn't make my blog more objective.  It's better to be upfront about about my beliefs and activities, write as objectively as I can, and let the reader sort things out. 

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