In a 7-2 decision handed down June 14, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against the state of Minnesota’s broad ban on wearing political apparel at polling places, Advertising Specialty Institute (ASI) and other outlets reported. Minnesota Voters Alliance v. Mansky took on a section of Minnesota election law stating that a “political badge, political button, or other political insignia may not be worn at or about the polling place on primary or election day.”
Other states have similar but far more precise bans, such as California’s prohibition against anything “that advocates for or against any candidate or measure.” Texas, similarly, bans “a badge, insignia, emblem ... relating to a candidate, measure, or political party appearing on the ballot.” Their specificity keeps them safe. The court’s opinion, written by Chief Justice John Roberts, identified Minnesota’s use of the term “political” as “unmoored,” saying that even the state’s official guidance on the law amounted to “haphazard interpretations.”
The law was thrust into the spotlight in 2010 when an election official kept Minnesotan Andy Cilek from voting for five hours for wearing a shirt with the Gadsden flag, “Don’t tread on me,” and a Tea Party logo. Volunteer poll workers in the state had broad discretion over what constituted a violation. Although the Supreme Court ruling in 1992’s Burson v. Freeman established a 100-ft buffer zone around polling places to keep them free of active campaigning and intimidation, this ruling implies that political expression not related to the ballot under consideration is protected.
So, why does the promotional products industry care about Minnesota Voters Alliance v. Mansky?
There’s been a symbiotic relationship between promotional products and U.S. politics since the very beginning of both. Most record-keepers agree that the first promotional products manufactured in the U.S. were commemorative buttons created in 1789 for George Washington’s election. Since that time, politics has run on promo. In the 2016 primaries, according to numbers reported in an Advertising Specialty Institute (ASI) article from April of that year, then-candidate Donald Trump spent nearly 10% of his total campaign spending (a total of $3.3 million) on promotional products, including the now-ubiquitous “Make America Great Again” hats.
As the 2018 mid-term election approaches, count on candidates, political action committees (PACs), interest groups, and more to ramp up the spending on promo. Everything from yard signs, buttons, and t-shirts to action figures and more creative promos can be sourced through our industry. Now that the primaries are behind us, opportunities will abound for political swag—both directly for campaigns and the more ancillary sort that can make it through the door at polling places.
I have fond memories of looking at my mother’s collection of political buttons on her mirror as a child. She had an “I Like Ike” button that I thought was particularly fascinating, as it was from an election that happened when she was seven years old! She certainly never voted for Eisenhower, but the keepsake had made its way to her, and she valued it enough to display it. Promo products in politics aren’t just functional; they have the potential to become potent pieces of historical memorabilia.
© 2018 Genevieve Trainor, Bankers Advertising