What fonts are used in political campaigns?
ON Recent study from Northeast Professor Katherine Hänschen, who explores the intersection of digital media and politics, examines the role of fonts in political branding.
Haenschen found that fonts are chosen to convey information about the candidates and to distinguish them from their opponents, making fonts a form of political communication.
The researchers surveyed graphic designers to analyze more than 900 candidate logos from the 2018 U.S. mid-term election, in which Democrats got 41 net House seats to win a majority and Republicans retain control of the Senate.
Visuals are often overlooked and under-explored in political communication, but they have increased as online content shifted from text-based blogs to more image-oriented platforms like Facebook and Instagram, the study found.
The analysis contributes to the growing area of research by offering an empirical look at the font selection in logos and word marks of political candidates – a kind of pure text editing.
Their research revealed that writings were not inherently political, but conveyed information about the candidate. What kind of information?
We found that a lot of things predict what font people will be using. One is party: Republicans tend to use more serif as sans serif Fonts relative to Democrats. And they were more likely to use script or handwriting.
Incumbents were more likely to use serifs, which tells us that the design in the logos is trending, that someone who was elected to Congress in 2008 or 2010 has a logo that is likely from that era that looks a bit different from the design which is more oriented towards sans serif fonts.
Men were less likely to use script or handwriting than female candidates and were more likely to use slab serif, so we see differences based on the party, tenure, tenure, and gender of the candidates.
[Note: Throughout this interview, Haenschen refers to serif, sans-serif, and slab-serif fonts. Common parlance in typography, serifs are the small lines attached to larger portions of a letter, such as the small downward strokes at the top, and the horizontal line on the bottom of a capital “T” in the font on this page. Sans-serif fonts, such as Arial, do not include the extra lines. And in slab-serif fonts, the serifs, or additional lines, are generally thicker and more pronounced.]
It sounds like putting a lot of thought into choosing fonts.
We talked to eight graphic designers and they talked a lot about their process, how they tried to find a font that would convey the candidate, his qualities and his attributes.
So, if a person is steadfast and reliable, you want a font that conveys steadfastness and reliability. It wasn’t so much that the font was necessarily liberal or conservative, but a font that felt very traditional might work better for a more conservative candidate. However, they emphasized that the challenge is to use the candidate’s name, so find a font that will work with that name.
The designers talked about using only uppercase letters or only lowercase letters. Or just last name or first name or different combinations of letters.
It’s made for yard signs and buttons and stickers and mailings and websites so it has to work in different formats and be really readable. You have to see it when you pass a sign on the freeway. And it has to work on a postcard and it has to work on a website so there are a lot of restrictions on how the logo itself works.
What made you decide to deal more intensively with the subject of fonts?
It’s all well and good to say, “Oh, this Republican has this font and this Democrat has this font.” But if it doesn’t change how people feel about the candidates, or how they feel about them at the ballot box, then it has maybe not a broader effect.
So let’s look at each other now. It tries to understand when the design is having an effect and if you give people other information, does that flood the effect of the graphic design?
Left: The campaign sign for US Representative Jaime Herrera Beutler, a Republican from Washington, puts her first name in a more feminine font, says Haenschen of Northeastern. Right: The United States MP Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, a Democrat from New York, uses sans serif fonts common to Democrats. Photo courtesy of Katherine Hänschen.
The congress half-year is next year. What do you think is going on behind the scenes at some of the designers you interviewed?
On the one hand, we talked Ben Ostrowerwho runs a large creative company. He made the Kamala Harris logo. But then we talked to people who work with local candidates, people who are running for school board, running for judge, and so on.
For the people who are going to run these well-funded, competitive, congressional campaigns, I think more and more realizing that you have to put together some sort of visual branding to make it part of your social media roll-out. If you are making this two minute YouTube video, you will also need the logo, brand, website, and Facebook page. It all has to look good when you start.
Midterms 2022 are going to be really interesting. This wild back and forth that we’ve seen over the past few semesters may not be true. It’s a big open question whether midterms have traditionally been as bad for the incumbent president’s party as we’ve seen so far. With everything else that’s happening with COVID-19 and the economic recovery, that’s a big question mark.
Is there a connection between the professionalism of a logo and increasing the chances of winning?
There is probably some kind of relationship, yes. Having good graphic design means you’ve spent money on it, which means you got to spend money early on as all of that design work is done before they launch their campaign and website and send out their fundraising appeals. You want the logo on everything so do the logo before you start.
That means you had enough money to start your campaign to get involved in some form of professional service, and I think we are seeing an increase in professionalism in terms of both an increasing number of advisors in politics, as well as these Kind of hand with raising more money.
So I would say if you saw a head-to-head comparison of an extremely unprofessional logo and a professionally designed logo, I would think that the candidate with the more professional logo is likely to have more money, probably more campaign infrastructure, and probably better suited to in order to win.
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