Yard Signs Tell the Tale in New Hampshire

Drive through New Hampshire in the next week, and you will see a staggering number of Republican yard signs. They’re everywhere: It seems like every third house has a sign up. They’re on front yards and in the windows of businesses. They’re in every neighborhood representing every demographic. They’re in front of homes along rural roadways, in front of suburban homes in the big southern towns, and in the conservative blue-collar neighborhoods of Manchester.

And there are even Republican yard signs all over the capital city of Concord -- a largely Democratic-leaning town in this swing state.

Barack Obama is in big trouble next November.

In elections, yard signs provide the essential “social proof” to back up the television ads, debate performances, and stump speeches -- especially when it comes time to close the deal with relatively apolitical or undecided voters.

But this is a Republican primary. What do January yard signs have to do with Barack Obama?

Here is a secret: If you want to predict a general election, count the number of Republican yard signs in “purple” neighborhoods.

Take a drive through an upper-middle class community in a swing state. Find the subdivision where there’s a coffee shop on the corner and an organic grocery store not too far away, ideally where the Priuses outnumber the SUV’s… but not by much. Find the block where the adults are academics, professionals, or government employees and where every household has a couple of kids in the public schools. The voter breakdown in the ideal “purple” neighborhood is about a third Republican, a third Democrat, and a third independent.

Welcome to Concord, New Hampshire. Or Fort Collins, Colorado. Or northern Virginia. Or Raleigh, North Carolina. Or the suburbs and exurbs and small cities in swing states around the country.

Now count the Republican yard signs. Signs are not polling data, and they are certainly not election returns, but a yard sign is a definitive measure of three things: Support (obviously); intensity; and --  most importantly  -- a voter’s willingness to make his political opinions known to his neighbors. A yard sign -- especially in a “hostile” environment -- is a symbol of political courage, a sign of an impending shift in public opinion.

The early returns from the yard sign tallies are in: Voters in New Hampshire want their neighbors to know that they are voting Republican this year.