The Death of the Bumper Sticker

 

shutterstock_301700210Starting the year before a presidential election, bumper stickers pop up all over my daily commute endorsing most major candidates. This has long provided a convenient way of judging perfect strangers, but this year I’ve barely seen any.

My guesstimate of what I’ve seen in the past 12 months:

  • Bernie Sanders: 8
  • Donald Trump: 2

End of list. (And I have yet to see a single yard sign.)

Granted, this year’s long-lasting contenders haven’t really sparked my passion, but it’s odd to find that everyone else seems to agree. While searching for some clip art for this piece, I found that an author at The Atlantic noticed the same thing and dug in to the phenomenon:

[Gill-Line Productions, inventor of the bumper sticker] has sold more than $2 million in bumper stickers this year, [Chairman of the Board Mark] Gilman says, but sales of bumper stickers have been dropping. He blames it on digital and social-media advertising as replacements for the stickers, buttons, and campaign pins of yore.

Bumper stickers represent the last vestiges of the old “hurrah” campaigns of the 1950s.

Larry Bird, a curator at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, agrees that social media has played a role in the decline of bumper stickers. For Bird—a specialist in American political history and symbols—bumper stickers represent the last vestiges of the old “hurrah” campaigns of the 1950s, which were characterized by parades, painted tractor trailers, and rallies where campaigners would distribute their wares. Today, campaigning is significantly more manicured for television, and has lost what Bird calls the “thingness” that comes with receiving a button or bumper sticker from your favorite candidate.

She then delves into some psychosocial mumbo-jumbo about the whys, but none were terribly convincing.

Just four years ago, Obama stickers were everywhere. Much like Bernie stickers today, it was an quick way to signal your progressive virtue while rolling through the Whole Foods parking lot. I also saw lots of Mitt Romney and Ron Paul stickers by people advertising their less liberal views. But now if I want to look down upon my fellow Americans, I need to actually walk in to the Whole Foods and hang out by the artisanal kombucha display.

Here are my theories on why political bumper stickers are disappearing:

  • They look tacky: If you want to show off your sleek new ride, nothing mars it like a cheap piece of vinyl with an loud design. The only candidates I could have endorsed had logos that offended me as a graphic designer.
  • People fear reprisals: I’ve sold a modest number of political bumper stickers online and even when people like the design, many are afraid someone will rip it off, key their car, or slash their tires. Politics has gotten uglier on the left and the right, and no one wants the hassle.
  • The candidates suck: Although the feeling was misplaced, Obama was viewed as an inspirational figure by many Americans. To these folks, a simple O on the bumper declared, “I’m not a racist/misogynist/homophobe unlike those knuckle-dragging Republicans.” But this year, most politically active people seem  embarrassed by their remaining choices.

Question for the Ricochetti: Have you seen less bumper stickers on your daily commute and, if so, what is your explanation?

There are 55 comments.

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  1. Paul A. Rahe Contributor
    Paul A. Rahe
    @PaulARahe

    I would put one on my car if I could find one.

    • #1
  2. Jon Gabriel, Ed. Admin
    Jon Gabriel, Ed.
    @jon

    The bumper stickers that drive me crazy are the two Bernie fans who drop off their kids at my daughters’ classical charter school. I always want to tell them, “you do realize Democrats are against school choice, yes?”

    • #2
  3. David Sussman Contributor
    David Sussman
    @DaveSussman

    The stick figure families ate them.

    • #3
  4. Guruforhire Member
    Guruforhire
    @Guruforhire

    Number 2 is why I don’t ever put any on my car, I do have an army magnet ribbon though.

    I dont attach anything political to me in public.  I was nervous enough about having the base access stick on my car when I was in the army.  The anti-war protesters were pretty awful people.

    • #4
  5. Cow Girl Thatcher
    Cow Girl
    @CowGirl

    I still see the O stickers. (And I still have to resist the urge to vandalize the stickers…) I have seen exactly one Trump sticker, but quite a few Bernie ones. Oh, and I saw a Hillary sticker the other day, too. But really, I see no Trump stickers. Maybe I’m just in the wrong part of town, or I don’t get out much. One of my acquaintances still sports her Romney/Ryan sticker from the past. I saw many of those four years ago.

    We only have two stickers on our truck window: one says Harley-Davidson and the other US Navy. They never go out of style, nor do we ever change our opinion about those two.

    • #5
  6. Belt Member
    Belt
    @Belt

    And what do your Twitter and Facebook feeds look like?  Perhaps our society has move to the virtual space to flash their feathers now.  Perhaps people don’t pay as much attention to the physical space, and putting a bumper sticker on your ride isn’t as ‘real’ as liking a meme.

    • #6
  7. SpiritO'78 Inactive
    SpiritO'78
    @SpiritO78

    You’ll see more when we get to the general election.

    • #7
  8. Larry3435 Member
    Larry3435
    @Larry3435

    Jon Gabriel, Ed.:The bumper stickers that drive me crazy are the two Bernie fans who drop off their kids at my daughters’ classical charter school. I always want to tell them, “you do realize Democrats are against school choice, yes?”

    Or you could say, “Excuse me, but I thought you’d want to know that some maniac stuck a Bernie Sanders bumper sticker on the back of your car.”

    • #8
  9. Bartholomew Xerxes Ogilvie, Jr. Coolidge
    Bartholomew Xerxes Ogilvie, Jr.
    @BartholomewXerxesOgilvieJr

    Must be a regional thing; I see bumper stickers all the time. I see more Bernie Sanders stickers than Hillary Clinton stickers, especially if I’m near Chapel Hill. (Come to think of it, I can’t remember the last time I saw a Hillary sticker.)

    Interestingly, I don’t really notice a lot of stickers for specific Republican candidates. More often, I’ll see anti-Hillary (or anti-Obama) stickers, pro-Second-Amendment stickers, and the like.

    • #9
  10. BrentB67 Inactive
    BrentB67
    @BrentB67

    Fewer bumper stickers. The majority of what I’ve seen are Trump, a smattering of Ted Cruz and an occasional left over Obama/Biden.

    After our primary I’ve started seeing a couple of yard signs, all Trump.

    • #10
  11. Locke On Member
    Locke On
    @LockeOn

    Not much sticker action here in red state Idaho.  I’ve seen a few left-over O’s, a couple Bernies, one Hillary, and two Carsons.   That’s the lot, and both the R and D primaries have come and gone.

    • #11
  12. The Cloaked Gaijin Member
    The Cloaked Gaijin
    @TheCloakedGaijin

    Jon Gabriel, Ed.:

    My guesstimate of what I’ve seen in the past 12 months:

    • Bernie Sanders: 8
    • Donald Trump: 2

    My guesstimate of what I’ve seen in the past 12 months:

    ~7 Carson

    ~3 Bernie

    ~3 Trump

    ~3 Cruz

    ~2 Hillary

    I even still see a few McCain/Palin and “W” bumper stickers too.

    • #12
  13. Blue State Blues Member
    Blue State Blues
    @BlueStateBlues

    Now that you bring it up, I don’t see many bumper stickers any more.  I used to get a laugh out of the Priuses with “O” and “Coexist” stickers, as if the car itself wasn’t a clear enough message.

    Any stickers I do see are either left wing or pro-union, except for one old car with a white sticker that says “to be an” in small blue letters.  I think it used to say “Proud to be an American,” but red fades and blue doesn’t.

    I have never put a bumper sticker on any of my cars.  I care about them and they are not traveling billboards, nor vandalism targets.

    • #13
  14. kelsurprise Member
    kelsurprise
    @kelsurprise

    The last candidate I can remember my parents’ getting really excited about was Nixon.  There’s an old family movie from early that fall, before his landslide election, where the camera pans past our Fort LTD station wagon to reveal the long, thin strip of windows up top completely filled with a solid line of side-by-side “NIXON” bumper stickers.   Even as a little kid it amazed me, because my dad’s normally the sort of organized neat-freak who can’t abide clutter, or having stickers slapped on things.

    Fast-forward through the resignation and a few more political scandals since and (their enthusiasm for Reagan notwithstanding), where politics are concerned anyway, my parents both started to evince a sort of wry and weary resignation.  Granted, they were still very young back in the early 70s, but that sort of enthusiastic fire for any one candidate just seemed to go out of them both fast.  Back then, I was taken along when they volunteered at a local campaign office, taken out of school early one day to meet Nixon’s plane when he came through Tulsa.  But as far as I know, they’ve never attended another political rally and I’ve never seen a sign in their lawn or a sticker on their car, since.

    I’m not big on signs or bumper stickers either.  I find them tacky.  (Though I like to pull out some of my vintage “Nixon” items now and then just to torture my lib friends.)   But still, when I think back to the carefree political enthusiasm I saw in my parents that long-ago summer and fall, its sudden and near-complete disappearance afterward makes me kind of sad, sometimes.

    • #14
  15. Kephalithos Member
    Kephalithos
    @Kephalithos

    BrentB67: After our primary I’ve started seeing a couple of yard signs, all Trump.

    Yes. And, in Ohio, a smattering of Kasich signs.

    In Homer, Michigan — twenty miles northwest of Hillsdale — I passed a pickup truck bearing a painted likeness of Donald Trump.

    • #15
  16. Mate De Inactive
    Mate De
    @MateDe

    I live in Connecticut so I’ve only seen a few Bernie Stickers on high end luxury cars, and one Bernie sign in front of a million dollar plus house. I think the irony is lost on them

    • #16
  17. ParisParamus Member
    ParisParamus
    @ParisParamus

    I was delighted–sort of– to see a SMOD 2016 sticker here in Park Slope Brooklyn.

    • #17
  18. Invisible Hand Inactive
    Invisible Hand
    @InvisibleHand

    I buy your second and third theories (fear of reprisal and candidates suck). I don’t buy the fear of going tacky. I see a lot of tacky bumper stickers on cars… “My kid does this or that,” “My dog does this or that” … but not many stickers for candidates this year. I did see a pretty funny one on my way home from work the other day, “I’m not a racist. I don’t like Biden, either.”

    • #18
  19. Chris Campion Coolidge
    Chris Campion
    @ChrisCampion

    I wonder if some of this is due to leasing, too – a lot more prevalent today than it was back in the day.

    Putting a Barry sticker on your car was a big deal in the first election, a historical event, etc.  I’ll buy that.  2nd time around, not so much.

    Also, that O sticker becomes extremely hard to explain at the Klan rallies every Saturday night.  Not worth the hassle.

    • #19
  20. BrentB67 Inactive
    BrentB67
    @BrentB67

    Kephalithos:

    BrentB67: After our primary I’ve started seeing a couple of yard signs, all Trump.

    Yes. And, in Ohio, a smattering of Kasich signs.

    In Homer, Michigan — twenty miles northwest of Hillsdale — I passed a pickup truck bearing a painted likeness of Donald Trump.

    I call Ricochet foul for no picture.

    • #20
  21. Sandy Member
    Sandy
    @Sandy

    I’m of the “bumper stickers are tacky” persuasion, but this year I did put one on my car.  It says “Save the tiny humans.”  I don’t worry about driving around my very pro-choice city because I’m pretty sure the pro-choicers think I’m supporting midgets, in utero babies not being human at all, tiny or not.

    I’ve seen almost no bumper stickers related to this year’s campaigns, and the person who was Obama’s coordinator for my city in 2012 told me she “can’t get enthusiastic about the election this year.”  Says a lot.

    • #21
  22. Seawriter Contributor
    Seawriter
    @Seawriter

    I only have magnetic bumper stickers now – put them on when I am driving, stick them in the trunk when I park.

    I will admit to wanting a “Run Hillary!” bumper sticker – to put on the front bumper. But that would probably result in a visit from the Secret Service.

    Seawriter

    • #22
  23. Seawriter Contributor
    Seawriter
    @Seawriter

    My favorite bumper sticker was a non-political one I saw back in the 1970s.

    It read: “Unemployment Isn’t Working”

    Spotted in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

    Seawriter

    • #23
  24. Allan Rutter Member
    Allan Rutter
    @AllanRutter

    Here in the fecund reaches of North Texas, progeny trumps politics.  SUVs seem to be the only vehicles with rear displays large enough for large clans of stick people, multiple gender-neutral trendy names associated with their sports or music affiliations. If a car displays something other than kid-related pursuits, it’s usually about sports, college or pro.

    On my dark blue pickup, I used to display a discreet Texas Longhorn magnet obtained in frequent business trips to Austin (and the UT Co-op), but the magnets would always get removed by stealthy, jealous rivals who couldn’t appreciate the complementary colors.

    • #24
  25. Suspira Member
    Suspira
    @Suspira

    Seawriter:My favorite bumper sticker was a non-political one I saw back in the 1970s.

    It read: “Unemployment Isn’t Working”

    Spotted in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

    Seawriter

    I have two favorites. One, a “Drill for oil in Detroit, not Alaska” sticker on a huge, hulking SUV. Two, a sticker I used to see in the parking deck near my office and always wondered about the delightful person who put it on his bumper: “Stop Continental Drift.”

    • #25
  26. Matthew Roy Member
    Matthew Roy
    @MatthewRoy

    Driving around the DC Beltway on my daily commute, I see political bumper stickers all the time. Of the ones I see representing candidates of this election cycle, Bernie is by far the most common. I’ve seen a handful of Clinton stickers and virtually no Republican ones. Although, I do see many of the specialty Gadsden flag VA license plates, as I have on my car. It’s a safe assumption that only conservatives would specifically select and order that plate, so what DC traffic lacks in Republican candidate bumper stickers it makes up for in a slightly more subtle political signage.

    • #26
  27. The Flying Fezman Member
    The Flying Fezman
    @TheFlyingFezman

    I live in Washington, DC, and I too have definitely noticed a surprising lack of bumper stickers. In ’08 and’12, the city was festooned with Obama stickers, and some Hillary stickers – early on too. In fact, when traveling to another country during that time period, one of the first thing I noticed was, “hey, these cars don’t have Obama stickers!” Now I only see a few Bernie stickers, and NO Hillary stickers. I noticed this fact myself a while ago, and I’m shocked that the stickers haven’t materialized yet.

    But the really surprising thing I’ve noticed is the recent disappearance of legacy Obama stickers. In ’12 there were tons of legacy ’08 Obama stickers, in fact a lot of people proudly had both stickers next to one another. I find it unlikely that all those folks have bought new cars in the past four years, so where did all those Obama stickers go? In my head I envision thousands of liberals throughout the city quietly sneaking out to their driveways under cover of darkness with a rag and a bottle of goo-gone.

    The lack of democrat bumper stickers in my neighborhood actually gives me hope that our chances against Hillary might be better than we think (no matter who we field at this point). We shall see.

    Anyone else notice the abrupt disappearance of Obama stickers or is that just me?

    • #27
  28. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    Paul A. Rahe:I would put one on my car if I could find one.

    I wanted to get a Cruz yard sign before the primary.  Couldn’t figure out how to get one.  I had no such trouble getting a Justin Amash yard sign last election.

    I’d put a Cruz bumper sticker on, too.  The last candidate I did that for was Dole.

    • #28
  29. Fake John/Jane Galt Coolidge
    Fake John/Jane Galt
    @FakeJohnJaneGalt

    Only bumper stickers I have is my NRA member sticker and my pro choice bumper sticker
    http://www.cafepress.com/mf/76288976/pro-choice_bumper-sticker?productId=784191940

    • #29
  30. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    The Reticulator: I’d put a Cruz bumper sticker on, too. The last candidate I did that for was Dole.

    I should modify that statement. I put it on for Dole/Kemp.  Wouldn’t have done it for Dole alone.

    I was trying to remember why I would have bothered to put one on for Dole, and it finally came to me.

    One stealth-Republican woman at work (an off-campus university department) told me, when nobody else was around, that I was brave for having done that. I didn’t think so, but it gives you an idea of what some people think.

    • #30

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