Do we really need campaign signs on public space?

A few weeks ago I found myself in the familiar role of harvesting election signs after the by-election campaign. Again I could not help but note what a colossal waste of resources the placement of election signs on public spaces is. I have written on this before and I think it is time to bring it up again. Having municipalities ban signs on public spaces would benefit both political parties and the pubic in general. It is rare when a policy seems such a clear winner but I think councils need some more nudging on this.

There are a number of reasons why election signs should no longer be placed on public space.

They are ugly!


By the end of any campaign the number of signs piled on public spaces can be astounding and I really can’t think of anybody who likes looking at them massed like that. I have been in the USA for a couple elections and they make our sign placement look scattered in comparison but we are working hard to close that gap.

It is bad for the environment

I am not Mr. Environmentalist by any means but I do appreciate some common sense approaches to conservation. In a general election in Alberta alone there are tens of thousands of signs on public space throughout the province. While the occasional candidate may re-use signs, they are for the most part a one time use thing as the parties tend to change themes, slogans, colors and candidates.


I found the sign pictured above while picking up by-election signs. The sign clearly had been laying under the grass for over two and a half years. Signs on private space are taken care of by the homeowner if the campaign lapses in picking them up. Public space signs often end up vandalized, blown away and forgotten by campaign teams.

Public space signs don’t work!

The only real reason campaigns insist on placing signs on public space is that they don’t want to be perceived as lagging behind any competitors. If the signs were only on private space it would have no negative impact on any campaign.

millingIMG626The Alberta Party dedicated almost everything they had to their campaign in Calgary Elbow. To keep this from being too evident, they did spend a small fortune and some time on putting out massive amounts of public space signs in the other constituencies.

While Mr. Millington is a decent fellow and while the Alberta Party got a surprising amount of press during the campaign, Troy Millington got a paltry 2.4% of the vote in Calgary West despite the constituency being blanketed by signs small and large.

Public space signs are no substitute for a real campaign. If they were to have any impact at all, the hundreds of them placed out for Mr. Millington would have brought his showing at least beyond an average polling margin of error.

Removing public space signs will improve campaigns!

Election signs do serve a purpose in bringing about relatively cheap name recognition and when on private lawns can lend a strong effect of momentums as people see where their neighbors appear to be landing on the electoral map. While election signs on public land turn into white noise in the eyes of the voter, signs on private lawns have a real influence on the election.

If the only option for sign placement was on private land campaigns would bring their battle for voters to where it really belongs, to the doorsteps. Campaigns that want signs will have to approach voters directly and engage them. While any real campaign already knows this, a ban on public signs will force campaigns to focus even further on knocking on doors which is better for any campaign.

Resources will be saved as well. Volunteers who used to have to constantly place, repair and maintain public space signs can now be dedicated to something more productive while the thousands previously spent on public space signs can be spent on better things as well (volunteer beer and such).

Campaigns can irritate people and the waste can be astounding with signs everywhere while literature overloads everybody’s mailboxes for over a month. We could simply change this by having municipalities banning public space signs if we could just coax them to put that on the table. I just cant see a downside here.

6 thoughts on “Do we really need campaign signs on public space?

  1. I couldn’t agree more! Great points. Seems like a no brainer! I will remember to bring this up next election in my county. Campaign signs are still littered around our town days after the election and I am quite sick of seeing one particular loser candidate’s face in the park across from my house. Do you by chance know how long they legally have to remove them before a fine is incurred? I remember reading about it a few years ago, but can’t seem to find out if it is 48 hrs or 1 week.

    • I think it may vary by municipality but it is usually 48 hours. Most municipalities are pretty lenient and allow a little wiggle room to get the signs down but will act if somebody leaves a real mess.

  2. Hi Cory, thanks for your comments regarding signs on public property. We tried to make the best use of constrained resources of time, money, and volunteers. With 7 sign locations and 100 small signs, I don’t think we went completely overboard, especially when you consider that the Ellis and Taylor campaigns seemed to have placed nearly 10 times as many. I had many people approach me at my daughter’s school to say thank you for putting your name forward, while specifically referring to one of my signs. So public signs do have value wrt raising one’s profile. So perhaps a friendly amendent. How about a small maximum number of signs per candidate, say 10 large, 100 small that would prevent massive visual pollution while still effectively publicizing one’s candidacy. Doorknocking every door in the riding is clearly the gold standard. Public signs, pamphlets, and possibly phone calls are useful supports in the event that you do not make it to every doorstep. I support a maximum but feel that 0 is not the right one.

    • Thanks for responding Troy and giving specific numbers on the signs. They were well placed in that they seemed like a lot and those 8x4s really did stand out I sort of singled you out as the Alberta Party campaign was sort of unique in how the resources were focused. It was an interesting strategic decision. It was also that it was in Calgary West where I was picking up signs so it made the example natural. Sign maximums could be an idea though enforcement would be tough.

  3. No worries Cory. A further extension of this idea might be to have the sign maximum governed by some function of population and geographical size of the riding. Alternatively, a total sign area budget could be used and you sort out the signs that will fit within it, ie all 8x4s, all 4x4s, all lawn signs or whatever linear combination that stays below the total allowable sign area. Once something like this was in the municipal bylaws, I suspect campaigns would tend to act as the natural enforcement. Who would be willing to stick to such a bylaw while others blew past the limits with impunity. Perhaps you can check with party strategists as to if a public sign limit would mess with campaigning in an unacceptable manner. I will bring it up informally within ABP and see what kind of reaction ensues. Thanks for this interesting idea and the compliment re the signs.

  4. Pingback: Do we really need campaign signs on public space? | Castle Downs is a beautiful area in North West Edmonton that consists of eleven distinct neighbourhoods.

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