Reading the Electoral Signs

I live in Northern Virginia, which has long been one of the Democratic Party enclaves in an otherwise Republican-friendly state. I now live in Loudoun County, which tends more to the ‘right’ and has a predominantly Republican set of representatives in the local, state, and federal governments . . . but neighboring Fairfax County almost always votes Democratic, as does Arlington County and most of the nearby cities, at least in the federal races. As long as I can remember, political signs and bumper stickers in the area have clearly reflected this tendency. Gore and Kerry signs outnumbered Bush signs in Fairfax County in 2000 and 2004, and Obama signs far outnumbered McCain signs in 2008 (a race that saw Virginia go for the Democratic Party candidate for the first time since 1964).

The number of signs for each presidential candidate in a jurisdiction doesn’t necessarily reflect how its vote will go. Plenty of people have a favorite candidate and will vote for him, but don’t like him quite enough to advertise it. Some people—conservatives in predominantly liberal areas, and liberals in a predominantly conservative areas—won’t advertise their views for fear of vandalism, or of alienating their neighbors. Measuring signs as a measure of electoral strength would also under-represent the voters who suffer under overly-restrictive homeowners’ association rules (like mine in South Riding), or who live in condos and apartments. As such, the Democratic presidential candidates won Fairfax County by narrower margins than a sign poll would have indicated in 2000 and 2008. But it is still an interesting measure of voter passion. Poor candidates—like Kerry in 2004 and McCain in 2008—tend to find themselves under-represented in people’s yards as compared to their same-party candidates in other years.

So how does Northern Virginia look today? First of all, the Virginia Department of Transportation now has authority to remove political signs from highway rights of way—the First Amendment be damned—so the number of signs in shoulders and medians is far, far less than it has been in past years. But even putting this aside and looking only at political signs on private property, there are far fewer signs than there usually are. This indicates a distinct lack of passion for both President Barack Obama (D) and former Governor Mitt Romney (R-MA). But the really amazing thing is that Romney seems to be winning the sign war. In Fairfax County, I estimate that he is ahead of Obama at least 60/40 in yard signs. Even in reliably Democratic Arlington County it seemed to be about 50/50 when I drove through last weekend. In the twelve years I’ve lived here in Northern Virginia, I’ve never seen a Republican presidential candidate win the sign war until now.

This is all very anecdotal and unscientific. I admit that my impressions may be skewed because I spend most of my time in the western half of Fairfax County, and spend less time in the eastern half than I did in either 2000 or 2004 (as my ‘center’ has moved further and further west). But even if I look at the specific neighborhoods that I have visited regularly and consistently over the whole twelve years I’ve lived here—the part of Reston where my grandmother lives, or Franklin Farm, or Clocktower—the general trend still seems to have moved in a distinctively Republican direction. Will this bear-out on election day? Your guess is as good as mine.

Scott Bradford is a writer and technologist who has been putting his opinions online since 1995. He believes in three inviolable human rights: life, liberty, and property. He is a Catholic Christian who worships the trinitarian God described in the Nicene Creed. Scott is a husband, nerd, pet lover, and AMC/Jeep enthusiast with a B.S. degree in public administration from George Mason University.