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The science and art of election signs

By Kim Huynh - 23 September 2016 18

Sustainable Australia signs

Kim Huynh considers whether the staleness and monotony of our signs says something about our politics.

So many signs! So many signs!

The increased number of candidates in the upcoming ACT election (141 all up!) seems to have made for a far greater number of political signs than ever before.

Or it could be that riding the streets campaigning for three or so hours a day has made me particularly attuned to their presence?

There’s certainly been a lot of media coverage of the signs, much of it critical.

My one-time boss John Warhurst pointed to an incensed resident who pledged to avoid any candidate who committed ‘visual pollution’ in this way.

The extended commentary on a case of sign vandalism in the RiotACT was largely unsympathetic to the candidate, and at times nasty. This suggests to me that many people view political signs – and politics more generally – as getting in the way of our lives rather than making them better.

Independent David Pollard commented that he would prefer to go down the Yass path and only allow election signs on private land, which would be good for the environment and somewhat reduce the advertising advantage of the major parties.

Here’s my two cents on what these signs say and how we can interpret them to make our commutes and indeed the democratic process a little more informative and enjoyable.

The science of election signs

When it comes to getting votes, signs by themselves are just about useless.

They can only be effective as part of an integrated strategy; that is, they should reinforce a message from someone or some group whom you already know through personal contact, via the media or by reputation.

ALP signs tend to focus on name recognition. Ultimately, that’s all that voters have to go by on the ballot paper. So the most recognizable half of a candidate’s name is often emboldened and repeated: Tara, Tara, Tara, Tara.

The obvious strategy for Gordon Ramsay in Ginninderra was to play off his culinary namesake (I reckon there’s a fair chance someone named ‘Nigella’ will run in 2020).

Labor signs

This year there’s no Julia Gillard for Guilia to bounce her ‘G’ off. But the fact that she’s not using her face on her signs like last time, but rather concentrating on ‘Giulia Jones’ suggests that it’s still all about the name at this stage of the season.

Being in opposition, many Liberals tend to go negative when it comes to their signs, highlighting hot button issues with red news flash type banners, ‘No Trams’.

Their placement of signs is also instructive, especially with regard to Jeremy Hanson. Identical signs are positioned at accurate distances apart to suggest an even temperament, military discipline and a safe pair of hands. I wonder whether he staked them in himself.

The ALP takes what I like to think of as a Floriade approach to sign placement. There’s a couple of signs with the candidate’s picture standing tall like tulips among a bunch of squat unicolour pansy-like signs emblazoned with a name. It’s important for a fifteen-year-old government to remind us that it’s still blooming.

Independents (including and especially me) can struggle to get their signs right due to a lack of experience and resources. Over eagerness can lead to placing too much information on signs, all of which is likely to be ignored.

Sustainable Australia’s sign is centered around a striking image of the country that looks like it’s almost overheating, but there’s a few too many words to drive by and digest with ‘Vote 1’ along with their hashtag and website.

Independent Leigh Watson has done well by standing slightly askew so as to demonstrate depth and dynamism (as opposed to the standard grinning mug shot). Her no nonsense crossed arms are offset by a friendly visage.

Leigh Watson sign

The art of election signs

Election signs are never going to be high-brow or enlightening, but they need not treat us like Pavlov’s dogs. How then can they be more authentic, intriguing and cool?

I propose that that we put less emphasis on the science of election signs and inject them with a little personality and artistic flair.

Instead of resorting to well-used templates, candidates should be encouraged to design their own signs.

Slogans should be rejected in favour of punchy and evocative poetry. This may be asking too much, but surely the slogans can be punchier and more poetic: Kevin 07, Doszpot in First Spot.

Candidates could also try coming up with their own logos. If one logo really works for them, why not get it tattooed on some part of their body? And let’s consider moving away from using faces that are bland, horribly touched up and which so often obscure rather than reveal the true person.

It would be good to see election signs that leave some room open for interpretation. They might be playful, challenging or perhaps raise the occasional WTF?

The staleness and monotony of our signs surely says something about our politics.

I don’t pretend to have mastered the science or art of election signs, but this is the outcome of my knowledge and experience of them to date. Needless to say, my Mum hates it.

Kim Huynh sign

How would you go about improving the quality of election signs and politics in general? Do you favour banning or restriction signs? If so, what would you have instead?

Kim Huynh, Independent Candidate for Ginninderra. Check him out at GoKimbo.com.au or on Facebook.

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18 Responses to
The science and art of election signs
Kim F 10:11 am 30 Sep 16

They do make good tomato stakes……..so somebody else told me

Garfield 9:00 am 30 Sep 16

I think the main reason behind the proliferation of roadside signs this election is due to the increased exclusion zone around polling booths of 100m. Last time it was 30m. This means people will not be able to collect a how to vote card or be reminded of the name of that candidate they talked to one time a month ago while on their way in. While many people will see that as a positive, I think the candidates are trying even harder to get their names in front of people now as a result, and so we’re seeing all the signs.

In relation to election funding, the caps on the major parties are slightly lower than they were in 2012, and they’re both probably spending right up to the cap. The extra funding this year will not mean a quadrupling of material next time because of the caps.

My understanding is that major party candidates raise their own funds for their personal campaigns, with the parties funding the central campaign. This means the only way a major party candidate can get more signs and material into the community than an independent is to fund raise or contribute the money themselves. Given that the major party spending cap will be split in some fashion between the central campaign and that of the candidates, an Independent actually has the capability to spend more than any single major candidate, as long as they can come up with the funds.

The division of the ACT into 5 electorates and the lower cap per candidate may well have translated into more grass roots campaigning (more signs and stuff in the letterbox) and less TV and radio advertising.

David Pollard 12:35 am 30 Sep 16

Barron said :

Its about time they is a limit placed on signs of all kinds

Another aspect is all the junk mail.

I just hope the roadside signs are made of recyclable materials

I’ve got far fewer signs than the major parties (I’m an independent for Yerrabi), and I am calling for strict limits on the number of signs politicians can put out:
http://www.davidpollard.com.au/policies-and-platforms/roadside-election-material/

Same for mailbox pamphlets – id like to see limits. I’m working on an alternate to the mailbox spam which is diverting some electrol funding away from candidates and using it to produce a magazine for each electorate. Each candidate could contribute equally to the magazine, and it would be distributed once to every house, unless the opted to receive it electronically instead.

Finally, yes, I checked before I ordered any that they are recyclable. I’ve got some people who want to use them as weed mat, and my grandmother is looking forward to the garden stakes.

Barron 8:52 pm 29 Sep 16

This has been the dumped rubbish campaign. More roadside signs than I’ve ever seen in a local election.
Surely its about time this group of people (candidates) had the same self-control we are all asked to have. Its about time they is a limit placed on signs of all kinds but it is amazing how, when we have some sort of regulation, they exclude politicians.
Another aspect is all the junk mail. It falls into the same category, that is, politicians’ electoral messages are not considered junk mail and you are not entitled to even request they not fill your letterbox with political “junk mail”.
I just hope the roadside signs are made of recyclable materials, I doubt the candidates have even checked, otherwise just more plastic junk on our land fill. Candidates note these signs just annoy people and if you annoy people…. well you get the idea….I hope.

curmudgery 8:05 pm 29 Sep 16

And the voters sign reads:
Vote? Who are these bloody people?

madelini 9:30 am 28 Sep 16

Kim Huynh said :

madelini said :

I was afforded a chuckle. Thanks for your contribution, Kim, very memorable.

In general though, I cannot stand the election signs – aside from hoping that they are made of recyclable materials, they give me a general level of irritation and have no impact on who I vote for. Ditto the materials left in my letter box, although, those can usually give a better outline of policies. Aside from everything else, they have the potential to create a hazard or at least a distraction on the road and they don’t give much information beyond name and trusting the reader to associate colour with political party.

I can’t help but agree with you madelini. What am I going to do now with my garage full of signs?

Might I recommend that you frame them and create a display inspired by Andy Warhol’s soup cans?

Kim Huynh 6:28 am 24 Sep 16

wooster said :

It seems to be an exercise in egoism. I don’t like the idea of a smiling politician; mostly because I don’t like politicians.

Kim – you seem like a reasonable guy. Who would you recommend people vote for outside your electorate?

It’s a fine line sometimes between egotism and self belief. I suspect almost all politicians have a fair bit of the former; not sure how many have the latter, but the good ones surely do.

In principle I’m not one for endorsements and how to vote cards or proclamations. But there’s a good case for voting for level headed independents if only because there are none in the Assembly at the moment and it’s only going to get harder for Indies after this because of the new public funding laws. If you don’t like signs now, note that ALP, the Libs and Greens will have four times the amount of public funding to spend on them in 2020. See my article on it here if you’re idle over the weekend. http://www.smh.com.au/act-news/act-election-2016/why-independents-will-struggle-in-the-act-election

Bonkers 10:51 pm 23 Sep 16

madelini said :

In general though, I cannot stand the election signs

Reprobate said :

I’m not a fan of the roadside signs myself

wooster said :

It seems to be an exercise in egoism. I don’t like the idea of a smiling politician; mostly because I don’t like politicians.

And then…

WilliamBourke said :

Sustainable Australia will release a new corflute sign this weekend

Well done on taking on feedback and reacting appropriately [insert head slap here].

WilliamBourke 7:13 pm 23 Sep 16

Sustainable Australia will release a new corflute sign this weekend, to reflect the Aboriginal heritage of our Yerrabi candidate Violet Sheridan.
You can find it here:
http://www.votesustainable.org.au/sustainable_australia_act_represented_by_indigenous_elder_science_father_son

wooster 7:11 pm 23 Sep 16

It seems to be an exercise in egoism. I don’t like the idea of a smiling politician; mostly because I don’t like politicians.

Kim – you seem like a reasonable guy. Who would you recommend people vote for outside your electorate?

Reprobate 4:14 pm 23 Sep 16

I’m not a fan of the roadside signs myself, they show a candidate’s ego is bigger than their concern for what our city looks like. And frankly don’t include your photo on them, firstly your mug won’t be on the ballot form and secondly no matter what your mum says about your smile you just look like another oily real estate agent (apologies to oil).

I will give points to one candidate in Brindabella who has their name in reflective letters on their signs, getting 24 hour recognition rather than just during daylight hours. Also makes them easier to knock down under the cover of darkness he he he…

Kim Huynh 2:35 pm 23 Sep 16

devils_advocate said :

Need to hit the pecs and delts a bit harder there Kimbo, maybe some compound lifts and a caloric surplus, looking like strong DYEL status.
As John Moulis how it’s done, I get the feeling he’ll be more than happy to share his 5-day split and macros with you.

No dispute from me d_a. None whatsoever. K

Kim Huynh 2:26 pm 23 Sep 16

madelini said :

I was afforded a chuckle. Thanks for your contribution, Kim, very memorable.

In general though, I cannot stand the election signs – aside from hoping that they are made of recyclable materials, they give me a general level of irritation and have no impact on who I vote for. Ditto the materials left in my letter box, although, those can usually give a better outline of policies. Aside from everything else, they have the potential to create a hazard or at least a distraction on the road and they don’t give much information beyond name and trusting the reader to associate colour with political party.

I can’t help but agree with you madelini. What am I going to do now with my garage full of signs?

devils_advocate 1:36 pm 23 Sep 16

Need to hit the pecs and delts a bit harder there Kimbo, maybe some compound lifts and a caloric surplus, looking like strong DYEL status.
As John Moulis how it’s done, I get the feeling he’ll be more than happy to share his 5-day split and macros with you.

madelini 11:38 am 23 Sep 16

I was afforded a chuckle. Thanks for your contribution, Kim, very memorable.

In general though, I cannot stand the election signs – aside from hoping that they are made of recyclable materials, they give me a general level of irritation and have no impact on who I vote for. Ditto the materials left in my letter box, although, those can usually give a better outline of policies. Aside from everything else, they have the potential to create a hazard or at least a distraction on the road and they don’t give much information beyond name and trusting the reader to associate colour with political party.

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