Sign Use in Garage Sales and Elections



Citrus County had 427 houses for sale on July 23, and if no other homes had become available, the entire inventory would have been depleted in about 27 days.


Of course, other houses did become available. One of them was my own, which was on the market for less than two weeks. With our closing day less than a week and a half away, we hosted a moving sale this weekend.


The sale was a success, not because we have good stuff, but because enough people came through that most of it was sold. We advertised almost exclusively through the use of signs, something I tell my candidates not to worry about in elections. But did the garage sale just prove that signs work?


Election season has yet to begin this cycle in Citrus. We only have one declared countywide candidate. Even the local government news has been as quiet as the political front with Tuesday’s Commission meeting going to be centered on the decision of the county to purchase Pirates Cove at the tip of Ozello but not too much else.


In a couple of weeks, the Commission discusses the effects of increasing the sales tax on residential road resurfacing and waterfront setbacks. Universal garbage collection will be discussed, and possibly voted on, in about a month. The news stories are on the horizon, and some candidates probably are too, but that remains to be seen.


As early as April of 2019, a full 16 months before the 2020 primary election, one candidate in Citrus blanketed the county in signs. Patrick Crippen was the only candidate with signs out for at least five months and he had them everywhere. The case study it was creating was evident: are signs useful in winning elections?

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Mr. Crippen earned 4,137 votes which was 16.20% in a four-way primary for sheriff. Let’s look at other similar examples of four-way primary elections but with candidates who did not use any signs. David Gregory in the 2020 property appraiser election earned 3,366 votes and Ron Kitchen in the 2018 primary earned 8,591 votes. The two candidates in four-way primaries who didn’t use signs at all averaged just shy of 6,000 votes, almost 2,000 more than Crippen.


An argument could be made that both Mr. Kitchen and Mr. Gregory had run before and thus had name recognition. In Crippen’s own race though was Mike Klyap who had earned over 23,000 votes when he ran previously but tallied fewer than 1,000 in his 2020 second try thus negating any real effects of name recognition. What the data is plainly saying is that signs have an almost negligible effect on election results.


And yet my garage sale would have been a failure without them. Only customers who were exercising in our neighborhood who saw our driveway filled with stuff stopped by until we put out signs. When the signs were up, the traffic was steady all day. It stopped the moment the signs were taken down.


What is happening here? Why is it that signs appear to be so ineffective in elections, but absolutely vital to garage sales? Why does a candidate hear everyone say that they’ve been seeing the signs, but still come up short in the polls?


We could tell when one of our signs had fallen down in the garage sale by the disruption of traffic between waves of people, so surely there has to be some correlation of success in sign use and politics.


The difference between the garage sale signs and election signs has nothing to do with the candidate’s name. It was the arrow on the sale signs pointing people to our house. Without a persuasive message or a call to action, signs have almost no ability to influence people who see it. Some candidates, including many of the ones I’ve represented, understand this and put additional information on the signs. This is usually more branding and less persuasion however. For example, Mr. Crippen began attaching riders to the tops of his signs that said, “your hometown candidate.”


Signs are a quintessential part of political campaigning and will never go away. Since their influence is limited though, candidates should use them only within the bounds of their effectiveness and not to excess. This cycle has been a nice reprieve from the signs so far, leaving smaller temporary ones like “moving sale” with an arrow next to it to get noticed more often.