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?

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  1. wilber forge Inactive
    wilber forge
    @wilberforge

    Have an old large key fob that says, “Nixon, More Now Than Ever” on a flight bag, never a comment.

    Have to note that spending most of the last eight years in Mexico, one sees posters and such and nary a bumper sticker, ever.

    Seems propoganda in the States profit many and serve few, as if the emotional rush and display solves much. There are two awfull corrupt parties running affairs here and one can truthfully say, the American System as it stands may be more colorfull, but the same.

    • #31
  2. kylez Member
    kylez
    @kylez

    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.

    The fact that you said “midget” would bother many of those people more than abortion.

    • #32
  3. Vince Guerra Member
    Vince Guerra
    @VinceGuerra

    Less in general over the last several years in Alaska; one Trump the other day, but none of the others.

    I’ve always wanted to get one that says, “I’m listening to Rush Limbaugh. Doesn’t that just piss you off?”

    • #33
  4. Sandy Member
    Sandy
    @Sandy

    kylez:

    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.

    The fact that you said “midget” would bother many of those people more than abortion.

    Oh yes, and now that I understand, very wrong of me to use midget-aggressive language.

    • #34
  5. Manny Member
    Manny
    @Manny

    I rarely see bumper stickers any more, and it’s not just for this election cycle.  Years ago everyone had some sort of bumper stickers, now hardly anyone.  I don’t know if it has anything to do with these plastic bumpers we have now, but in my mind I correlate it to the end of chrome bumpers.

    • #35
  6. Sandy Member
    Sandy
    @Sandy

    The Reticulator:

    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.

    You can get them through the campaign but it looks as though you can get them faster right now through companies like this.  

    • #36
  7. Johnny Dubya Inactive
    Johnny Dubya
    @JohnnyDubya

    I have seen fewer stickers, and I think your three theories are all accurate.  They are main reasons for the dearth, though the first one that leapt to my mind was reprisal.

    When I was young, I had a sticker on my bumper and a college sticker in my window.  As I aged, I realized the motivations for doing this are not attractive.  No one cares who you support for president or where you or your kids go to school.  And why would one want to junk up his car?

    I don’t even like license plates on the front of classic sports cars.  (And fortunately, my state does not require a front plate if you have historic plates.  I say “plates” because NJ issues you two historic plates, despite not requiring one on the front.  The front plate gets thrown on a shelf or into a drawer in your garage.  Yet another example of government waste.)

    In addition to physical displays of political opinion on cars and on yards, I also dislike the politicization of Facebook.  It is neither Ricochet nor the Daily Kos.  Whether right or left of center, political statements on Facebook trigger an “Unfollow” from me.

    • #37
  8. Lazy_Millennial Inactive
    Lazy_Millennial
    @LazyMillennial

    Living in Austin TX, I see plenty of stickers. Lots for Bernie, some for Hillary. I agree with all of your reasons for not seeing them, in this order of important:

    Candidates suck- most important. Turnout’s way down on the Dem side, and neither candidate has much appeal outside their core supporters.

    Fear of reprisal- growing as the nation becomes more polarized.

    Tacky- always an issue, but not especially “more” this election cycle versus others.

    • #38
  9. MikeHs Inactive
    MikeHs
    @MikeHs

    Here in my part of southern California (Orange Co.), I think people love their cars so much that they’d rather eat grass and twigs than put adhesive paper on their vehicle, no matter what political persuasion they are.  However, that being said, I see more stickers on the “progressive’s” cars. Nothing like seeing a “Bernie” sticker in Newport Beach.

    • #39
  10. Peter Gøthgen Member
    Peter Gøthgen
    @PeterGothgen

    I see a decent number of Bernie stickers and the occasional Trump.  One car I saw yesterday had two Trump stickers.  One said “Make America Great Again”, the other said “There Will be Hell Toupé”

    • #40
  11. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    Last bumper sticker I saw that I paid any attention to was on a pickup truck. It said “I’m too informed to vote Republican.”  There was another bumper sticker, also with a hate message, but I don’t remember what it was.

    Tacky? Of course bumper stickers are tacky.  A lot of people are offended by yard signs, too.  They’re great. Welcome to America.

    • #41
  12. EHerring Coolidge
    EHerring
    @EHerring

    -I have a Cruz bumper sticker and the MRC’s “Not a Liberal” but they are recent additions.  I have feared finding my car “keyed” by Democrats so I have avoided them, opting for USC Gamecock magnets instead.

    -I would love to sport an NRA one but fear it would invite break-ins by thieves thinking a gun might be in my glove compartment.

    -I have always had at least one on my rear bumper for all previous cars, mainly because the new color I picked our suddenly became the rage so the bumper sticker helps me find my car in big lots.

    -When I had a “Rush is Right” bumper sticker I was selected for jury duty consideration a lot but the questionnaire asked for a description of any bumper sticker on your car.  I never was called for duty.

    -A few years ago I joked about the Prius recall—to get the Obama stickers removed.

    • #42
  13. EHerring Coolidge
    EHerring
    @EHerring

    psst, Jon….this from the ricochet store, “No results for ‘bumper sticker'”

    • #43
  14. Duncan Winn Member
    Duncan Winn
    @DuncanWinn

    I would be afraid of having my car vandalized.

    • #44
  15. Fake John/Jane Galt Coolidge
    Fake John/Jane Galt
    @FakeJohnJaneGalt

    Duncan Winn:I would be afraid of having my car vandalized.

    NRA stickers tend to slow that down.  Those that would vandalize feel all NRA members are about to kill everybody in the world anyway so they are too scared to take the chance.

    • #45
  16. Fake John/Jane Galt Coolidge
    Fake John/Jane Galt
    @FakeJohnJaneGalt

    I have a couple of emblems on my truck.  NRA, Freemasons, Shriners, Christian fish symbol.  Oddly I have had more push back about the Christian fish than any of the other ones.  Those atheists are a pushy bunch.

    • #46
  17. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    Fake John/Jane Galt: Those atheists are a pushy bunch.

    In addition to pushy, I would use words like dogmatic, moralistic, and intolerant.

    • #47
  18. Seawriter Contributor
    Seawriter
    @Seawriter

    The Reticulator:

    Fake John/Jane Galt: Those atheists are a pushy bunch.

    In addition to pushy, I would use words like dogmatic, moralistic, and intolerant.

    Religious bigots.

    Seawriter

    • #48
  19. Dad Dog Member
    Dad Dog
    @DadDog

    Jon Gabriel, Ed.: many are afraid someone will rip it off, key their car, or slash their tires.

    Yup, exactly, especially here in the Golden State.  Trolls are not limited to cyberspace.

    • #49
  20. Dad Dog Member
    Dad Dog
    @DadDog

    Manny: I rarely see bumper stickers any more, and it’s not just for this election cycle. Years ago everyone had some sort of bumper stickers, now hardly anyone. I don’t know if it has anything to do with these plastic bumpers we have now, but in my mind I correlate it to the end of chrome bumpers.

    That’s why I put them on my rear windshield, instead . . . next to my NRA sticker and my church’s sticker.

    • #50
  21. Dad Dog Member
    Dad Dog
    @DadDog

    MikeHs:Here in my part of southern California (Orange Co.), I think people love their cars so much that they’d rather eat grass and twigs than put adhesive paper on their vehicle, no matter what political persuasion they are. However, that being said, I see more stickers on the “progressive’s” cars. Nothing like seeing a “Bernie” sticker in Newport Beach.

    From a fellow Orange Countian: I second the emotion.

    • #51
  22. Acook Coolidge
    Acook
    @Acook

    I kept my McCain/Palin sticker on my car all the way until I pasted the the Romney/Ryan sticker on over it. Didn’t want anyone to think all the nonsense going on was my fault. About a year and a half ago, the Romney/Ryan sticker (and the underlying one along with it) disappeared.
    This year, I’ve only seen 2 Bernie stickers. That’s it, and we’re in a pretty conservative area. No yard signs at all.

    • #52
  23. Acook Coolidge
    Acook
    @Acook

    Speaking of the stick people “families” that people put on their cars, there’s a car that I see occasionally around here with one I like. It’s a mom, a dad, three boys, four dogs, a bird, and a snake!

    • #53
  24. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    Acook:one I like. It’s a mom, a dad, three boys, four dogs, a bird, and a snake!

    A “don’t tread on me” snake would be a nice touch.

    Several years ago I was doing some bicycling in Indiana at the time of our 40th wedding anniversary.  We had some travel planned for a month later to celebrate our anniversary, so weren’t  planning to do anything special on the actual date.  Mrs. Reticulator said I could go on another bicycle ride, but I said no, I didn’t care to be hearing about it for the rest of my life.  So I suggested that we stop in at the Lutheran school 50 miles away where we had taught just after we were married. We had never been back.

    It was at the time of year when teachers were getting ready for the upcoming year. I stepped into my old classroom, and it turned out one of the then-brand-new teachers who had just arrived there when we had left 37 years earlier was there.  She said, “I remember you! You left a snake in my classroom!” I had forgotten, but it did sort of come back to me. I don’t remember what kind, but it was harmless. Maybe 2-3 feet long. I think one of my students had brought it, and we kept it in an aquarium, except when it got out.

    • #54
  25. Cunctator Member
    Cunctator
    @

    Pedantic:

    Yes I have seen *fewer* bumper stickers overall, for all things (rare to see anything now).  Interestingly, one would think that plastic window decals could supplant those, instead of the mini-families.  I think most posturing has moved to Twitter.

    • #55
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