Political Attack Billboards Could Be on the Rise

Apr 13, 2017

Political attack billboards, like this one in Northern Virginia paid for by a group known as Dump Comstock, could be on the rise.
Credit Dump Comstock's Twitter Account, @dumpcomstock

It seems like political campaigns are always searching for the next big thing; the killer app or the comprehensive database. But as Michael Pope reports, sometimes old tricks can take a new twist.

Drivers in Northern Virginia aren’t just seeing billboard ads for fast food restaurants and outlet malls. They’re also seeing political advertising. A group known as Dump Comstock has purchased a billboard criticizing Republican Congresswoman Barbara Comstock for avoiding town halls. Ithaca University professor Steven Seidman says attack billboards have been around for more than 100 years. 

“The first one that I can recall in the United States was an anti-Taft billboard in 1912 put out by the pro-Theadore Roosevelt progressives.”

Quentin Kidd at Christopher Newport University says the idea of a political attack billboard is so unheard of that the anti-Comstock one is working better than anyone could have expected. 

“This one particular billboard has gotten so much attention it’s probably paid for itself multiple times over. And so I would guess if there are any grassroots groups out there who are trying to target a particular incumbent, they’re going to take notice of this.”

Kidd says people who need evidence should look no further than the United Kingdom, where restrictions on television advertising mean that much of the messaging — in favor of candidates and in opposition to them — is written on signs along the highway.