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Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Cheating yourself at solitaire

Today’s episode of Little Miss Know-it-All: It doesn’t benefit us, so we’re against it!

Thank heavens, the election season is almost over. We are harassed visually and aurally (and orally) everywhere we go. Everyone wants our votes. Signs are popping up all over Name of Town Withheld.

The local media, of course, are also concerned about the proliferation of signs. They have declared a War On Signs. Call me a cynic, but I cannot help but notice that they are extremely concerned about any form of communication that does not benefit them directly. Name of Paper Withheld has declared war on any advertising that does not line its publisher’s pockets, but I expect more from CBC.

Today’s morning show included a current-affairs item about the signs. A reporter did a “streeter”, which is an informal, unscientific man-on-the-street survey. It is the lowest form of journalism. Grab random people, ask them a question about something they know nothing about, and give them five seconds to answer. Record whatever tumbles out of their mouths. Great job, folks!

Today’s question: “Do you vote for candidates based on their signs?”

The Shocking! Result! was that people do NOT vote for candidates based on their signs. They vote for candidates based on what they say.

I’ll give you a moment to compose yourself after this earth-shattering news.

There’s no way to know with ironclad accuracy without doing a “streeter” inside the CBC newsroom, but I’d venture a guess that journalists believe that while signs do nothing to support a candidacy, appearing on CBC or in the newspaper does. And this, of course, has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that this type of appearance benefits the news media. Nothing at all.

The effect of advertising on voters is an interesting topic, but apparently it scares journalists so much that they don’t even want to ask questions about it. It’s not possible that anyone could purchase advertising that would be more believable and persuasive than the evening news! Let’s cover this story by asking a question designed to get the answers we want! Then we can make fun of candidates for spending money on signs!

Nobody votes for a candidate just because of his signs. (Duh.) Signs do one thing: promote “name recognition”. An individual voter cannot possibly remember the names of all of the candidates in the election; he usually has enough trouble remembering who is running in his own riding. Signs reinforce the message that Joe, Susie and Nick are the person’s candidates. Then, in the vast sea of discussions about what all of the candidates believe, the voter is able to pay more attention to Joe, Susie and Nick. He can tune the others out.

A candidate who does not put up signs is unlikely to be considered a real contender. This is not because people vote based on signs; it is because a person with no name recognition is virtually ignored. Signs alone will never get a person elected: they simply allow the candidate to stand out a bit more and help voters to remember what the person believes.

But, of course, this took more than five seconds to explain, and it includes some nuances, so I don’t expect to hear it on the news. Carry on.