Bumper stickers, T-shirts: Can campaign merchandise predict election's winner?

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Chia heads of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are examples of election-year product marketing.

Tension is building in the blue-red world of politics, but it's nothing but green for the promotional-products industry, raking in millions and millions of dollars on campaign buttons, bumper stickers, T-shirts, even copies of Donald Trump's "Make America Great Again" baseball cap.

"No matter what it is, no matter how close it is, people buy yard signs," said Norman Cohn, chairman of Advertising Specialty Institute, or ASI, in Trevose.

"They buy bumper stickers, they buy all kinds of things," he said.

ASI links suppliers that manufacture and imprint swag to distributors that sell the products to companies, schools, teams, and, in this case, political campaigns.

Promotional items are a form of advertising, and each election year ASI tracks how much the candidates are spending, drawing on campaign-finance reports.

Can campaign merchandise predict the winner?

"I would be very nervous to try to predict an election," said Cohn, who at 83 has been in the promotional-products industry for more than 60 years. "But there are far more Trump signs out than there are for Hillary."

Bumper stickers may provide a clue.

The winner's supporters and campaigns tend to order more bumper stickers, one of ASI's members told CBS reporter Martha Teichner earlier this month.

"Well, I can say that every winner since we've been making bumper stickers, every winner of the national election has used the most bumper stickers," Mark Gilman, chairman of Gill Studios Inc. in Kansas, told CBS.

Gill Studios will have printed 15 million political bumper stickers this election season for offices ranging from county sheriff to U.S. president.

Clinton supporters ordered 2.3 million bumper stickers compared with the 800,000 ordered by Trump backers, Gilman said.

ASI conducted its own bumper-sticker poll through the Google Consumer Survey Network, asking, "If you received a bumper sticker from Trump and Clinton, which one would you be most willing to put on your car?"

So far, Clinton trumps Trump, but in the most recent poll, of 1,005 people questioned between Oct. 14 and 16, just before the third debate, her lead had narrowed, 52 percent to 48 percent.

By the end of August, according to ASI's analysis, Trump's campaign spent $11.5 million on campaign merchandise, or 9.65 percent of his total spending to that point. By contrast, during the same period Clinton's campaign spent $2.4 million on promotional items, less than 1 percent of total spending.

To put that in perspective, Trump also outspent Bernie Sanders, who put 4 percent of his total spending, or $9.3 million, into campaign merchandise during the Democratic primary season.

In 2012, Barack Obama's campaign set a $6.7 million promotional-merchandise record, ASI reported.

Cohn said he wishes he could find more correlations between the sale of swag and election results.

"It would be great if we could," he said, "because then we'd get quoted by all the news organizations."

jvonbergen@phillynews.com

215-854-2769 @JaneVonBergen

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