It’s a common argument I hear this election, especially among those who support #Donald Trump in the election and don’t believe the polls that shown him losing: “Trump must be winning -- look at all the #Lawn signs!” It’s true that while I’ve seen no empirical study of this, it appears, both in my area and in those of people I’ve discussed it with, there are a lot more Donald Trump signs on America’s lawns than there are Hillary Clinton signs. Does this mean Trump is actually winning? Of course not.
Signs can’t vote
The argument that Trump is winning because he has more signs is akin to the ones that he’s winning because he has larger rally crowds, or more Twitter followers, than his opponents. Those things are all a sign of more grassroots enthusiasm, or maybe even more passion among voters for the candidate. But they’re no indication whatsoever about the ability to form majorities, or a winning electoral coalition. There were stories in 2012 that Mitt Romney was sure to win, both Pennsylvania and the whole country, because he had more signs than Barack Obama.
There’s another hypothesis for why you see fewer Hillary signs: it’s very possible that Clinton’s campaign has done the research and concluded that, in a presidential elections, lawn signs don’t make that big a difference. Sure, signs can be important in down-ballot or ultra-local races, when most voters have never heard of the candidates and might choose to vote for the person if they’ve seen their sign but not that of their opponent. But in a presidential race, in which the candidates are both widely known? It’s hard to tell how big a difference signs would make.
20th and 21st century campaigns
If it’s really the case that the Trump campaign has made a top-down decision to blanket the nation with lawn signs and the Clinton campaign hasn’t, that would fit a whole lot of recurring patterns of the campaign thus far.
The Trump campaign has switched leadership multiple times, but for most of the election it’s either been run by political novices, or by people who last ran a presidential campaign many years ago (during the reign of former manager Paul Manafort, the Trump team was filled with veterans of the 1996 Bob Dole campaign). The Clinton campaign, though, has numerous veterans of Barack Obama’s runs in 2008 and 2012 -- people who used voter-targeting techniques to history-making effect. If they chose to put their finite resources into targeting and get-out-the-vote efforts instead of signs, they likely have a reason for doing so.
So once again: the Trump campaign’s sign advantage is an indication that they’re good at distributing signs. It’s not an indication that they’re going to win. #Election 2016