Poll confirms widespread voter opposition to more electronic billboards

By: - April 6, 2011 2:17 pm

This was released today by the good folks at the League of Conservation Voters:


Contact: Carrie Clark, NCLCV, [email protected], 919-839-0006

Tom Jensen, Public Policy Polling, [email protected],919-744-6312

Majority View Outdoor Advertising as Detracting from Local Communities

Raleigh, NC, April 6, 2011 – North Carolina voters oppose proposed changes to state law that would take away local control of billboards and would allow more electronic billboards along highways and roadsides, according to a new statewide poll released by the N.C. League of Conservation Voters.

The telephone survey indicates that North Carolina voters overwhelmingly hold the view that billboards detract from the appearance of communities and strongly believe that placement of billboards should remain a local decision. Voters across the political spectrum shared those views. Seventy percent of Democratic voters, 68 percent of Republican voters and 78 percent of independent voters said billboards detracted from community appearance.

There is virtually no support from North Carolina voters for having the state tell local communities where and what kind of billboards can be put within their boundaries,” said Tom Jensen, director of Public Policy Polling, a Raleigh-based firm that does public opinion surveys. “This is a rare issue where Democrats, Republicans, and independents are all in agreement. They don’t like billboards and they think their local governments should be able to make the rules controlling them.”

Legislation in the North Carolina Senate (S.183) and House (H.309), pushed by outdoor advertising companies, would allow existing billboards to be converted to electronic billboards with changing messages and would expand the area along roadsides where trees and vegetation can be cleared to make billboards more visible. A number of local governments have passed resolutions opposing the bills.

Eight out of every 10 voters surveyed (80 percent) said they opposed allowing up to seven electronic billboards per mile. Senate bill 183 would permit digital billboards every 1,500 feet on each side of any interstate or highway in a commercial and industrial area –as many as seven billboards every mile. Electronic billboards generate more revenue for outdoor advertisers because they accommodate multiple advertisers with rotating messages.

The legislation also would permit electronic billboards to replace existing billboards, including non-conforming billboards in locations that local communities have identified as no longer appropriate for large signage. That would effectively override local bill regulations.

Two thirds of those surveyed said they generally opposed any increase in the number of billboards in North Carolina. While the legislation does not immediately increase the number of billboards, it would allow more billboards along the roadsides over time by allowing electronic billboards to replace existing non-conforming billboards.

An overwhelming 70 percent of North Carolina voters surveyed said that electronic billboards that flash changing ads every eight seconds would present a distraction to motorists, according to the poll. Both men and women viewed electronic billboards as distracting, but a larger majority of women than men said electronic billboards would distract drivers.

More than 80 percent of those surveyed said they opposed removing more trees so that billboards could be seen for longer distances.

Senate bill 183 would permit billboard owners to clear trees and vegetation 400 feet around billboards to make them more visible.

Under current law, it’s 250 feet. The change of law would gut some local tree ordinances where billboards are concerned.

More than two-thirds of those surveyed (68 percent) said they almost never use a billboard in deciding where to buy a product or service.

Twenty percent said they used billboards a few times a month to help make a purchasing decision and nine percent said they did so a few times a week. Men were slightly more likely to use billboards in purchasing decisions than women.

The poll was commissioned by the N.C. League of Conservation Voters based on the concerns expressed by a number of local community groups including Wilmington Council of Neighborhood Associations, Durham Inter Neighborhood Council, and Winston-Salem Neighborhood Alliance.

 “There is obviously a lot of concern across the state about how this legislation would affect local communities,” said Carrie Clark, executive director of the N.C. League of Conservation Voters.

 While the outdoor advertising industry may want to expand its visibility along the state’s roadsides with electronic signs, 90 percent of the voters surveyed said state lawmakers should focus more on creating jobs than weakening billboard restrictions. The percentage was the same among Republicans, Democrats, and independents.


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Rob Schofield
Rob Schofield

NC Newsline Editor Rob Schofield oversees day-to-day newsroom operations, authors and voices regular commentaries, and hosts the 'News & Views' weekly radio show/podcast.