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2012 campaign just doesn’t stick

Motorists not wearing support on bumpers

Published: Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2012 5:00 a.m. CST

(Continued from Page 1)

(MCT) — One of the presidential candidates texted me the other day. “Last call,” he warned, then made me an offer: Pick my favorite of three 2012 bumper stickers and get it sent to me for free!

A bumper sticker? How quaint. How 2008.

When I got that text, I realized what a quiet bumper-sticker season this campaign has seemed. Look around. How many 2012 presidential bumper stickers do you see? For either candidate?

Four years ago, political passion burst from bumpers everywhere, for Barack Obama, for Hillary Rodham Clinton, for John McCain and Sarah Palin. This week, I went in search of bumper stickers in my neighborhood, and on an eight-block stroll, I did find one.

Only one. And it was on the car window, not the bumper.

That’s not scientific evidence of the decline of the campaign bumper sticker, I know. So another data point:

As I write this column, I’m in a coffeehouse in a strip mall. I just walked around the parking lot, past 100 or so cars, looking for political bumper stickers.

I may as well have been looking for horse-drawn buggies. I found zero. Zero horse-drawn buggies. Zero bumper stickers.

To judge from the online ads, campaign bumper stickers are still big business, but where are they getting stuck? Dorm doors, maybe. Refrigerators. Bulletin boards. Maybe they’re flourishing somewhere besides the routes I travel in Chicago, but I’d be surprised.

Why the bumper-sticker decline? I have several theories.

1. Facebook is the new bumper.

Why deface your car when you can proclaim your politics on Facebook?

In fact, bumper-sticker political philosophy is so rampant on Facebook that it has spawned a backlash of friends defriending friends who post too much.

A popular Facebook cartoon shows an old-fashioned broadcaster at an old-fashioned microphone.

Broadcaster: “Your relentless political Facebook posts finally turned me around to your way of thinking.”

Below that, the words: Said nobody, ever.

Twitter, too, provides a virtual bumper.

“A tweet is often a slightly longer bumper sticker,” says Jack Bowen, who wrote the 2010 book “If You Can Read This: The Philosophy of Bumper Stickers.”

(Good trivia: The average bumper sticker, Bowen says, is eight words long.)

2. The Paucity of Political Passion

Most of us, we’re told, have already picked our political team for this election. Some of us even like our guy, enough. But the candidates don’t ignite the kind of ardor that prompts supporters to broadcast their love all over the roadways.

Bowen, who lives near San Francisco, says he has seen fewer bumper stickers there as well.

“It surprises me,” he says, and he thinks it may correlate to the apathy he senses among Californians, who feel their votes aren’t likely to determine who wins.

3. The Trash Factor

Bowen says fewer cars, especially expensive ones, have an old-fashioned bumper, the big rubber kind that just begs for a bumper sticker.

What’s more, he notes, for some people, the bumper sticker conveys “an image of trashiness.”

4. Fear

Bowen says bumper stickers have grown more aggressive. “I Love My Candidate” has given way to “I Hate Your Candidate.”

In a polarized world, it can be dangerous — or feel that way — to flaunt your “Obama bin Lyin’” sticker or the one that says “Honk if You’re Voting for Romney So I Can Give You the Finger.”

At least on Facebook, you can speak your mind and not worry about your car getting keyed.

Mary Schmich is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune. She can be contacted via email at mschmich@tribune.com.

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