Political Bumpers is an unscientific study of the correlation between the cars Americans drive and the way we vote. Designated "spotters" scattered throughout the country record information about cars sporting political bumper stickers. Real-time reports are then available, detailing how types and makes of vehicles correspond to political leaning.
This project runs from late September through November 2 at midnight.
There’s just a short time left in this year’s edition of Political Bumpers. Final reports will be ready in about a week after some of the data can be cleaned up. Early on, there seemed to be significantly fewer bumper stickers than in 2004, but in the last couple of weeks, the numbers have picked up. A few of us have also noticed that there’s a very large increase in yard signs this time around. Perhaps in 2012, we’ll have to start noting house types…
Mr. T in DC recently visited Leesburg Virginia and made some informal observations about bumper stickers (and yard signs) on the way:
The fun game of the day was keeping track of Obama versus McCain bumper stickers and yard signs on our trek into Virginia. Surprisingly, this election cycle finds Virginia a swing state rather than a solid red state as usual, and here in DC, we’re being bombarded with campaign ads aimed at Northern Virginia. The results of our informal survey are as follows: on the highways, 66 and the Dulles Greenway, Obama bumper stickers outnumbered McCain bumper stickers by an astonishing 10 to 1. Once we left the highway and took to the secondary roads, on the fringes of the exurbs, McCain yard signs predominated. Some landowners put up huge (6′ x 8′?) McCain/Palin signs which must have cost a fortune. There were a couple of Obama signs alongside the Republican congressional candidate, so it seems some Virginians are planning to split their vote instead of adhering to the party line. In Leesburg itself, Obama signs held a majority, though there were a number of McCain signs. Some adjacent houses had dueling signs, which must be a little awkward among the neighbors. The whole thing was fascinating, as where we live, Columbia Heights, must be the bluest, most-pro-Obama area on the map, so it doesn’t make for a good statistical sample of the country as a whole.
I live in the area and back in 2004, my wife and I spotted almost exactly equal number of left and right leaning stickers (leaning just slghtly to the right). This year, though, the story is different with almost 2/3rds of the stickers spotted supporting Obama and other Democratic candidates. It’s not quite the 10-to-1 ratio Mr. T in DC saw, but the northern part of the state is definitely leaning further left than it did in 2004.
Apparently, this summer The New York Times standards editor Craig Whitney sent a memo to his staff, instructing them not to display any political bumper stickers (or engage in any other activity which showed political preference):
On a recent road trip, I found numerous funny, bittersweet, or just bitter or idiotic political bumper stickers a welcome distraction from $4.50 gas, but also thought I should remind everybody who has anything to do with creating or displaying news content why they shouldn’t display their own political views, on cars or elsewhere, in this campaign season or afterward.
The following two provisions of our Ethical Journalism policy apply:
Journalists have no place on the playing fields of politics. Staff members are entitled to vote, but they must do nothing that might raise questions about their professional neutrality or that of The Times. In particular, they may not campaign for, demonstrate for, or endorse candidates, ballot causes or efforts to enact legislation. They may not wear campaign buttons or themselves display any other insignia of partisan politics. They should recognize that a bumper sticker on the family car or a campaign sign on the lawn may be misread as theirs, no matter who in their household actually placed the sticker or the sign.
Staff members may not themselves give money to, or raise money for, any political candidate or election cause. Given the ease of Internet access to public records of campaign contributors, any political giving by a Times staff member would carry a great risk of feeding a false impression that the paper is taking sides.
Second-time bumper sticker spotter meredithp–who lives in Vienna but commutes to DC–wrote in yesterday to share an interesting trend she’s observed this year:
Normally my spotting comes from my daily commute, Vienna to [DC] along I-66. So far my record has been over 75% left-leaning stickers, I’ve really seen very few right-leaning stickers.
This past weekend I did some errands in the suburbs, and all of a sudden I saw right-leaning stickers everywhere. But when I went back to my commute this morning, it was back to predominantly left-leaning stickers.
I thought the difference between city-bound, city proper, and suburbia was interesting.
Welcome to Political Bumpers 2008! It’s hard to believe it’s been four years since this project debuted during the 2004 election cycle. But, here we are again, looking at what Americans are driving and how that’s connected to who we’re supporting politically.
Already I’m noticing that there seem to be a lot more Obama stickers on cars than McCain stickers this time around but that there are fewer stickers overall. It should be interesting to see how things shake out this election cycle.