Rubin: Lack of yard signs could be a sign of the times

Neal Rubin
The Detroit News

Maybe it’s the candidates at the top of the ticket — the one who can’t find her emails, and the one who can’t find the end of a sentence. Maybe it’s that we don’t have a U.S. Senate race this year.

Or maybe, say a couple of political consultants, it’s that lawn signs don’t work.

Whatever the reason — speaking anecdotally, with a margin of error of two square miles — it seems like we’re seeing a lot fewer placards this election season.

Front lawns are barren. Busy intersections are barely cluttered. And in Lansing, Joe DiSano of DiSano Strategies is pleased.

“I’m not a big proponent,” he explains, “of probably the biggest public nuisance of political campaigns.”

Furthermore, he says, “Hopefully, in 10 years they’ll be extinct.”

DiSano, 43, hasn’t held a job outside politics since he worked the graveyard shift at a Macomb County truck stop in 1993. Among his duties there was to shoo away “lot lizards,” as in ladies of the evening.

Among his duties now is to shoo away lawn lizards, as in the signs some candidates feel duty-bound to plant.

Small groups can decide elections, he tells clients, so use targeted mailings instead. Go door-to-door. Given a choice between a hammer to pound lawn signs or a blanket to send smoke signals, buy the blanket.

“It comes down to technology,” DiSano says. “Basically, we can predict who’s going to vote in these elections. We have information on who they are and what their habits are.”

Better to put a specific message in their mailboxes, he contends, than to post a sign on a corner bearing only a name and an office.

“It has been a long-held belief by candidates,” says strategist Joseph Munem of Sterling Heights, “that signs are critical to winning an election.”

Lest there be any doubt about where he aligns himself, he continues:

“This is patently absurd.”

Still signing on

In the spirit of equal time, we now interrupt DiSano and Munem and give the floor to the delightful Pam Sawicki, co-owner of Sawicki & Son in Detroit.

Her second-generation company makes signs of all types and sizes, and also bumper stickers — though not many of those anymore. “We used to do 10,000 at a time,” she says. “Now we’re lucky to do 250.”

As for signs, she says, “We’re doing quite well, thank you very much.”

It’s been a strange year, Sawicki concedes, with presidential candidates who are not widely beloved even among the people who plan to vote for them.

Then again, “Every year is strange,” and sales are only down a drop after a robust primary season.

Prices at Sawicki for the commonplace 14-by-22-inch yard signs start at $2.35 apiece per 100, though that falls to only 67 cents each if you’d care to buy 1,000 of them.

“Give it another week or two,” says Sawicki, who married into the trade 47 years ago. “Hopefully, it’ll be better. But we still have steak on the table. And chicken sometimes, or tacos.”

‘Signs don’t vote’

Munem, 51, hosts a political podcast with DiSano at

Munem leans right and DiSano tilts left, but they are united in their preference for stamps and shoe leather over signage.

Munem likes to quote one of his early mentors, who declared, “Signs don’t vote.” But he’s not as quick to bury them — figuratively, though literally isn’t out of the question — as DiSano, who says they might be extinct in a decade or so.

Using existing lists, DiSano says, “I can focus on women who are not affiliated with either party who are not likely to have a college education between the ages of 40 and 60, if that’s who we deem to be a target audience.”

With postage rates for political bulk mail generally ranging from 27 to 50 cents, he says a card is a better investment than a placard.

It’s easier to dispose of, too. Driving through Detroit a month ago, DiSano saw a “George Hart for Congress” sign, and Hart waged that campaign in 2000.

For the record, he lost.