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Starting 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?