Instead of lawn signs, I notice old bumper stickers. Slogans for Hope and Change sit weathered and worn on the bumpers of sensible cars. I guess I can identify with them, my optimism for change and my relationship with the idea of hope for our political system are less naive than they were eight years ago.
I know it's a personal thing, maybe it’s even a millennial thing, but seeing those slogans from 2008 and 2012 invoke a sort of nostalgia in me for an election season where the public, or at least a bigger majority of it, is inspired by their respective candidate. I proudly voted for President Obama in 2008 in a mock election held by my freshman year history teacher. And by the time 2012 rolled around, I eagerly voted for him again for real.
I recently came home after being ‘away’ at college, living in an environment where if I based the primary election results solely on the conversations I overheard around campus, Bernie Sanders would be the Democratic Party's presidential nominee. So it came as a surprise to me when upon returning home to New Jersey I was confronted with not one, but two Trump 2016 signs in a close vicinity to my nice suburban cul de sac. For a few split seconds I had never felt so inclined to commit vandalism. But my limitations included: being in a moving car, driving said moving car, and my brain telling me to "stop being ridiculous, you're not trying to get yourself arrested for trying to preserve the legacy of New Jersey's brand of East Coast liberalism."
This, however, led me to wonder about the actual relevance of lawn signs in the 21st century. According to a 2012 article from the Atlantic, the use of lawn signs had quadrupled over the past 28 years from 1984 to 2012 (Wallace). Still, these lawn signs are just symbols. Just like the bumper stickers are. The presence or lack thereof of a lawn sign doesn't do a lot to actual polling numbers. According to a December 2015 Politico article that references a Columbia University study conducted by Donald Green, lawn signs make roughly only a 1.7 percent increase in a candidate's respective "voter share" (Collins). I'm not great at math but I know enough to realize that 1.7 percent is not a lot, at all. So what’s the point?
I guess we like symbols and voicing our opinions through these symbols. But this is likely subject to change. It seems like we’re turning more inward, to our circles of friends on social media, to make our biggest political declarations. I say this as a 22 year old whose political opinions are admittedly being influenced by a social media echo chamber of millennial liberalness. I’m forcing myself to observe more outside of that chamber.
Of course I can’t help but to think that Hope, Change, and Yes We Can! have been hypothetically replaced by Doubt, Politics as Usual, and I'm With Her, I Guess. And of course I want people to be (more) excited about the first woman nominee for a major political party.
But maybe, just maybe, I (and whoever wants to join me) can find optimism in the fact that these bumper stickers are still in tact eight years later. Hope and change are still in tact. So I’ll move forward being inspired by the strength and timelessness of these virtues. This election has been bizarre to say the least, and has led me, and probably other people my age, to become disillusioned with the surface level. We know that politicians make promises they either were never planning to keep or they won’t be able to fulfill. That doesn’t mean that I can't continue to learn from the people around me - those who share my political beliefs and those who might not. If there’s one thing that I’m sure of, it’s that this election has led me to realize what inspires me to exercise my right to vote.