Yard signs, that is. The sheer number of Republican yard signs in New Hampshire is staggering.
(For those of you scoring at home, there are more Romney signs in New Hampshire right now than all of the other candidates combined. After Romney there’s a growing crop of Huntsman signs, plenty of Ron Paul and Newt Gingrich signs and a smattering of Santorum signs. I didn’t see a single Perry or Bachmann sign.)
But the signs are everywhere, and not just on empty lots and medians. They’re on front lawns and in the windows of businesses. They’re in every neighborhood and in front of every type of house.
Barack Obama is in big trouble.
I know, I know: It’s a Republican primary. And, of course, “yard signs don’t vote.”
But signs on front yards are a very public expression of political opinion. A yard sign is an extremely accurately measure of that single voter’s comfort level with a candidate or a party.
And people in the swing state of New Hampshire are very comfortable letting their neighbors know that they’re voting Republican this year.
My how things have changed. My postmortem on the 2006 election was titled “Cocktail Parties and Yard Signs.” The thesis was simple: When Republicans don’t put Republican signs in their yards, it shows an unwillingness to embrace their nominees. They might vote Republican in the privacy of the voting booth, but they’re almost embarrassed by their own political opinions and unwilling to proclaim them to their neighbors. (The “cocktail parties” part refers to the tendency to disavow Republican nominees in “polite company” – the “I’m registered Republican, but I vote for the person not the party” fallback. It’s essentially the same as the yard sign phenomenon.)
This “shying away from the nominee” is mostly evident in suburbs, exurbs, small cities and swing “purple” states. (My 2006 postmortem focused on the vote in Fort Collins, Colorado, perhaps the purplest city in the purplest state in the country.) If you live in a deeply-red state surrounded by fellow conservatives, it’s hard to fully describe the political climate in an average “purple” neighborhood. Try to imagine having your neighbors approach (accost) you at the grocery store to tell you what’s wrong with your political positions. Imagine them bringing your kids into the conversation. There’s no separation between the personal and the political on the left, and a sign in your yard marks you as a target.
We all experienced this in 2008. If you just followed the media, Facebook posts from long-lost friends and, yes, the yard signs, you would never have guessed that someone other than Barack Obama won 46% of the vote in 2008. (His name was John McCain.) In “polite company” in purple states (and on the “purple state” of Facebook) it was just assumed that you were with Obama.
So back to New Hampshire.
Some quick background: New Hampshire is a very purple state. Twenty years ago it was one of the most Republican states in the country, but Bill Clinton (twice), Kerry and Obama all carried the state in general elections. The Republicans lost the governorship in 1996, and the Democrats made relatively consistent gains over the following decade. After the 2006 election, Democrats held both Congressional seats, the governorship, and both houses in the legislature (for the first time since 1911.) The 2010 election saw the pendulum swing decisively back to the Republicans, but no one was sure if that would translate beyond 2010… and into the presidential race.
There are Republican signs up in the conservative large southern towns in New Hampshire. There are signs up in Manchester. There are Republican signs up in all of the places you’d expect.
But there are also signs up all over the capital city of Concord – a Democrat stronghold. Concord isn’t “purple.” It’s deep-blue town in a purple state. The Republicans who live there personify the “I sometimes vote Republican, but…” mentality.
Concord is full of Romney, Huntsman, Gingrich, Paul, and Santorum signs. They’re in every neighborhood. They’re brazenly posted in shop windows. There are more Republican signs in Concord, New Hampshire than I have ever seen.
Swing-state Republicans take note: 2012 will be different.
Barack Obama is in big trouble.