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Jim Collins is editor emeritus of The News-Herald and also serves as executive in residence at Lakeland Community College. His popular weekly column appears each Sunday in Comment in The News-Herald.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Seasonal crop of yard signs in full bloom again

So here we are, only a few weeks from Election Day, and as I drive about the county I see a profusion of my favorite seasonal crops growing in yards, vacant lots and other sites that are prized by politicians for displaying their wares.

Those, of course, would be political signs.

These multi-colored beauties adorn previously unoccupied territory from one end of Lake County to the other. I presume they are arising in other counties as well. But I don’t venture into other counties very much, so I can comment only on what I am seeing hereabouts.

What I am seeing is what politicians must consider to be the favorite reading matter of would-be voters. Why else would they plant their names so resolutely from Wickliffe to Madison.

They are probably hoping the gentle rains will make them grow and proliferate.

The signs, I am sure, are intended for the consumption of low information voters, the ones who see a red, white and blue (or green, or gold and yellow) sign and cause a voter to say, “That’s all I need to know. I am convinced, and I will vote for him (or for her, or for it in the case of an issue.)”

You must admit, the information contained on a yard sign is somewhat sparse. It is not persuasive enough to convince anyone above the moron level to cast an informed ballot.

But the theory is sheer repetition of the name. If you see enough signs begging you to “Vote for John Fonotny for County Fence Mender,” you begin thinking to yourself, “Hmmm, Fonotny must be a pretty good fence mender. He must be because he has a lot of signs. I’m voting for him.”

Or for her, as the case may be. For all I know, John Fonotny may be a woman. Stranger things have happened.

I have a very good friend, and I mean a very good friend, who happens to live on what any politician would consider a prime location.

That would be, a corner lot with great exposure to traffic.

“Traffic” here is defined as people in cars, in buses or on motorcycles (airplanes are excluded) who might be inclined to vote for someone whose name was on a sign posted in a prime location.

So I asked my friend: “Do you approve of all those signs?” The implication, of course, is that some politicians, or their minions, might drive up under the cover of darkness and pound in a stake bearing the name of a candidate and steal away without being detected.

“Yes,” my friend said. “They are all clients of mine.”

I was dumbfounded. “You mean, that’s all it takes to get a sign in the lot next door to you?”

I debated him only momentarily, pointing out that he was overlooking a candidate who was by far the superior choice in one of the races.

My friend admitted I had a point. We will see on Election Day how that works out.

I have never permitted a political sign to be erected in our own yard. I hasten to add that the lady of the house also has freedom of speech and choice in this matter, and she has never disagreed with me about this.

I will make one exception. We have permitted signs a couple of times promoting the passage of issues.

They have been signs that said “Vote Yes, Will Not Increase Taxes.”

Now, I have to admit that this is the approach to be used on low information voters, because it gives no cogent reason for voting for the issue.

The sign merely says, “Vote Yes.” But it carries a very strong implication, because what it really means is, “Vote Yes Because I Said So.”

You see, what this literally means is: “If you trust our judgment, then vote ‘Yes’ for this issue.”

Conversely, if you don’t trust our judgment, then vote any way you wish, because if you are going to be that way, we really don’t care how you vote.

But we are two people – two honest citizens – who would never lead you astray.

I had a friend who ran many years ago for countywide office. He had no yard signs. “You better get some signs, pal,” I told him.

“Hah!” he scoffed. “Signs don’t vote.”

Perhaps he was right. But most of the people who voted in that race didn’t vote for him.

I always wondered if the voters who overwhelmingly chose his opponent derived most of their information from reading yard signs.

It is possible.

And how can you establish a ratio between signs and votes if one candidate had no signs?


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