It is hard to miss the massive Joe Biden-Kamala Harris sign on East Spruce Street in Mitchell. Across town, it is impossible to miss the Republican-themed signs filling Dwight Stadler’s Seventh Avenue lawn.
In an age where social media has provided a platform for one to offer any and all of their opinions, particularly regarding views on the state of American politics, old-school political signs remain popular.
Even in politically predictable South Dakota, neighborhoods often feature dueling signs. despite the state not supporting a Democratic presidential candidate with its Electoral College votes since Lyndon Johnson in 1964.
While today’s political climate is becoming increasingly more contentious, supporters of both candidates agree that showing support for their choices is a freedom that should not be wasted.
“I think we have that right in this country,” Mitchell resident Jan Quenzer said. “We are fortunate and we should be able to express our beliefs.”
Although a consensus of national polls show Biden holding a lead on incumbent Donald Trump, the president is still expected to win by a landslide in South Dakota. The prediction site shows the president holding a 13.3-point lead on his Democratic challenger, with an Oct. 25 Mason-Dixon Polling and Strategy poll giving Trump an 11-point edge.
Quenzer, a lifelong Democrat who has lived in Mitchell for 43 years, understands that her vote will not swing the state’s three Electoral College votes in favor of Biden, but it is still important to voice her opinion with signs on her lawn and at the polls. Quenzer said she has never been a straight-line party voter and is calculated in which candidates she chooses.
“I do believe that there are people that are going to vote party and they’re not going to vote for any other party except the one they’re registered in,” Quenzer said. “Because it’s party before anything else and I don’t think that’s right. Maybe that’s because I’ve never done it. I’m sure there’s parts of South Dakota that are so one-way and they can’t see the other or see the truth.”
Choosing a side
Many of the people boasting signs on their lawn are supporting a candidate they may not have backed in years past and much of it is due to Trump’s polarizing presidency.
More people have become invested politically, with 10,100 demonstrations held across the country between May 24 and Aug. 22, according to the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project, which documents political violence and demonstrations across 150 countries.
Political upheaval has also caused people to cross political aisles, ditching former allegiances for new ones. Stadler’s shift toward the Republican party came roughly 30 years ago when he became increasingly disenchanted with Democrats and what he believed they valued.
Stadler initially backed U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, during the 2016 primary election, but once Trump earned the GOP nomination, he found himself aligned with the president. As his lawn indicates, Stadler is firmly aboard the Trump Train as he fears for the future of the country if Biden is elected, particularly after social injustice protests gripped the nation for most of the summer.
Some protests and marches resorted to violence and chaos, the ACLED reported 93 percent of demonstrations connected to the Black Lives Matter movement, demonstrators did not engage in violence or destruction of property.
“What I remembered about South Dakota was that it’s a free state,” said Stadler, who moved to Mitchell two years ago after bouncing around the country through the military and working with Veterans Affairs. “They believe in the constitution and objectivity. … I’m disappointed that I’m seeing traits of those types of activities in California that are making their way into South Dakota. It won’t take long before that kind of insurgent behavior becomes more the norm.”
While Stadler has become a more avid Trump supporter, Mitchell resident Cindy Doctor registered as a Democrat for the first time in 2017 because of her disdain for the president.
Along with her husband Greg, Doctor feels she cannot trust Trump and that has led her toward Biden in 2020. Doctor believes herself to align near the center politically, but she has found herself becoming more vocal online leading up to this year’s election.
“My ideology, my spirituality don’t align with the views of the Republican Party anymore,” Doctor said. “I’m not a party person, so I’ve never voted along party lines. I just found myself leaning toward a Democrat in the last few elections. It didn’t make me switch, I just wanted to be registered. With Trump and his nonsense, I couldn’t call myself what he’s calling himself.”
Less sign-stealing, more civil discussion
Although political signs do not offer the same real-time opportunities for a cyber smackdown as a social media post, they are not immune to theft and vandalism.
Sign theft has been a common occurrence throughout the country during the election season, with one town in Connecticut considering banning political signs on public property to avoid such issues.
Mitchell has also endured similar problems, with Democrats and Republicans reporting sign theft. Some have even taken to covering signs in glitter and vaseline to ensure signs are left alone.
Sign stealing may not be the most egregious crime ever committed, it is frustrating to victims and believed to be another sign of the schism forming between those aligned on the left and right.
“Having rational, reasonable discussions is how you come to solutions,” Stadler said. “... I have strong beliefs and if I can open somebody’s eyes to things that have occurred historically and convince them, they may open my eyes to something that I never thought of or I wasn’t aware of.”
Most political discussions do not lead to violence, but such conversations have been disappearing in gatherings with family and friends in an attempt to maintain civil discord.
Quenzer has avoided those conversations with friends or family members that do not share her views, while Stadler enjoys a good debate so long as it does not turn personal or unproductive.
Doctor also tries to remain civil during discussions, but her views and willingness to voice them on social media or lawn signs has resulted in alienation from some family and friends.
“I have brothers that won’t have anything to do with me now because they’re Trump supporters,” Doctor said. “It’s sad, because they’ve put that above family and that’s happening so often. People that I know that don’t get why that’s not more important than your family and your spiritual values of loving thy neighbor. I understand that not everyone thinks like me and everyone has their views."