The Name of Success

Do candidates with shorter names have a better chance of being elected? There is good reason to guess this may be true, especially in local elections.

A typical political yard sign is 26 inches wide and 16 inches high. For a local election, these yard signs often comprise a major part of the campaign. They tend to be very simple in design and message. Most such signs carry no more than the name of a candidate and the office the candidate is running for.

The ubiquitous presence of these signs in the weeks leading up to an election is a reflection of the importance of building name recognition for the candidates. Studies have shown that seeing a name over and over again does more than simply increase awareness and memorability of the name. This visual repetition also creates greater comfort, acceptance and positive feelings associated with the name.

Evolutionary psychology suggests this positive reaction may be hard-wired into us. The need to survive has programmed us to pay attention to new features of our environment and to regard them as potential dangers until proven otherwise. If, after many encounters with the feature it has not attempted to eat us, it can be judged to be benign—a familiar and accepted part of our lives. Similarly, it can be projected that the more often we see a particular road sign, the friendlier it will seem to be. 

So much for the importance of the yard signs. But what about the impact of the messages they carry? In the local election just completed in my community, two races in particular were suggestive of a larger pattern. 

In one case, a congressional race, a man named Gibson was running against a man named Schreibman. When sized to fit into yard-sign spaces, their names look like this (the font is Arial Narrow Bold): 

In the other election, five candidates were competing for two available seats on the State Supreme Court. Sized to fit into yard-sign spaces, their names look like this: 

So, are you curious about the results? Admittedly, the sample size is extremely small, but they suggest the value of a larger study: with one barely outlying exception (Malone & Kavanagh, who were separated by less than a percentage point), relative font-point size was perfectly correlated with electoral success:


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