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The Psychology of the Campaign Sign

Do the colors of campaign signs make a difference?

Campaign season breeds heavy discussion and, in some cases, arguments.

One decades-old argument questions the effectiveness of door-knocking, mailers and, yes, campaign signs. 

But while door-knocking and mailers can sometimes provide some context behind a candidate or issue, what affect does a sign with a person’s name and hopeful elected office have? Is there more to it than just the words?

"Signs only matter if you can read them at a distance—no fancy fonts, sans serif is best, red and white is the best combination, big letters, relatively few words,” said Steve Schier, a professor of political science at Carleton College.

But what do the colors used in the signs say about the candidates?

It’s well-known that Democrats tend to use blue signs and Republicans tend to have red signs, but what about the nonpartisan candidates or those partisan candidates who buck the trend?

Psychology Today breaks it down like this: 

  • Red represents those who "live life to the fullest and are tenacious and determined in their endeavors."
  • Blue represents those who "love harmony, are reliable, sensitive and always make an effort to think of others."
  • Black represents those who "are often artistic and sensitive."
  • White represents those who "are often organized and logical and don't have a great deal of clutter in their lives."
  • Green represents those who "are often affectionate, loyal and frank."
  • Yellow represents those who "enjoy learning and sharing your knowledge with others."
  • Purple represents those who "are artistic and unique."
  • Brown represents those who "are a good friend and try your hardest to be reliable and dependable."

For more on all candidates in Tuesday's election, check out the Northfield Patch Voter's Guide.


The candidates and their signs

Northfield Patch caught up with several of this year’s candidates to see how they came up with the designs for their respective signs. Here’s what they had to say:

  • Dana Graham, who is running to be Northfield’s next mayor, said he first used his green and white color scheme more than a decade ago and now has used it two more times. Because all three of Graham’s campaigns have come during presidential election years, he said it was best to find colors that were “neutral.” Graham also noted that he hoped the green would bring him the “luck of the Irish.”
  • Rhonda Pownell, who squares off against Graham for the mayoral position, said the selection of her sign was a family decision. When she and her family were looking through choices for signs and came across a mostly blue sign with white text and a red line and stars, "it resonated." She said the solid blue mirrored one of her campaign slogans: Solid. Stable. Balanced. Trustworthy. With the red, she said it added a little bit of "energy and pizzazz."
  • Erica Zweifel, who is seeking re-election as Northfield’s Third Ward representative (and faces Jon Denison), said she wanted a green sign for two reasons: She was a supporter of Paul Wellstone and because of her “commitment to the environment.” Zweifel reused signs from four years ago in her first bid for a seat on the Council. She noted that the sign simply says “City Council” on it so it could be used for any council position (should she have been moved to a new ward with redistricting).
  • Betsey Buckheit, who is running for the At-Large seat (against David Ludescher), said red is her favorite color and that she didn’t think about whether or not it was associated with a political party. Buckheit said when she ran for mayor in 2004, she had a red and white sign with black lettering and liked that combination, but learned that the letters have to be big enough to be read by a passing car. So, with the most recent sign, she focused on increasing the size of the single “B,” which is used to start her first and last name on the sign. Buckheit also noted that she likes the contrast and that she didn’t want her signs to look like anyone else’s.
  • Galen Malecha, who is seeking re-election as Rice County commissioner for District 2, thought blue and green went well together. Malecha didn’t have campaign signs the last two times he ran for commissioner, which was in 2006 and 2010 and came in non-presidential elections. Because of the full ballot this election cycle, Malecha said it was important to get his “name out there” so it doesn’t get lost in the shuffle.
  • Jeff Quinnell, who is looking to unseat Malecha as District 2 commissioner, said he first chose the maroon and gold theme when he ran for Northfield School Board in 2008. “To me, Minnesota is maroon and gold. And that’s what I’ve kind of branded myself as,” he said. “We’re all Minnesotans.”

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Danny Urban November 05, 2012 at 08:32 PM
I think the signs, and the mailings are a big waste of money and resources. I really get tired of both! With the media and technology out there today, I make my mind up listening to debates, and reading things like what the Patch had posted on their Election page. It is a great way for the candidates to talk directly to the people without burning gas to knock on doors to get their message out! I made my mind up for the local elections based on what I have seen from the candidates have posted on the Patch! Make sure to get out and VOTE tomorrow!
imagebrite November 05, 2012 at 08:49 PM
This article offers a fresh and timely perspective on color psychology. Great job!

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