John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
Predicting the outcome of the 2012 election with a highly scientific analysis of wall doodles.
Presidential elections draw out all sorts of ridiculous polling methods. One steakhouse in D.C. will announce the presumptive 2012 winner based on how many people buy candidate-themed burgers. Then there's the tactic of examining whose Halloween mask sells better, which actually has been startlingly accurate.
Here's another approach not sanctioned by Real Clear Politics: Who has a more impressive graffiti presence? Meaning, which candidate has better motivated street artists to spend hours of their time splashing his likeness on an alley wall somewhere?
To judge from a keyword search of Flickr for the candidate's last name plus "graffiti," Barack Obama wins by sheer number alone: 4,766 results for him, 237 for Mitt Romney. Granted, Obama has had several years on Romney. But he also had a massive 2008 spike in graffiti right before and after his election, a burst of artistic activity that the conservative hopeful lacks even this late in the game.
What does it say about Romney's personality that people can't get motivated enough to pick up a can and spray his face? Not even in a negative way – unlike Bush, who inspired leagues of artists to mock him in the streets from America to Brazil to Bulgaria, Romney is virtually a non-presence in the urban art scene.
Obama's paint warriors aren't doing him any favors, though. Their are some seriously bizarro and inept depictions out there of our commander in chief. So to measure by artistic skill level, I think Romney enjoys a slight edge. Let's take a look at some of the graffiti for both men:
This portrait of Obama in San Francisco makes it look like someone inflated his head with an airhose, then smeared Vaseline on it. That sidelong glance also makes him look shifty. However, Flickr commenters seem to love it, with one writing, "I have seen a good bit of Obama graffiti over the past year, but this one is probably the finest specimen to date," and another, "I also must agree, this is really good."
With that smurfy hue and hand ring, it's like Doctor Manhattan is dropping his first hiphop album. Mural is in downtown Denver.
What. The. Hell. I'm not convinced this is Obama, and neither is the photographer, but those ears are persuasive. Located in the Marin Headlands, north of San Francisco.
Someone went a little crazy with this mural in San Francisco's Caledonia Alley. Is there an Obama in that enthusiastic vomit of color?
Cripes, this Obama will haunt your dreams forever. From the Rhone-Alpes region of France. Now for the Romney camp...
Real skill and humor are evident in this apparent wheatpaste under a freeway in Los Angeles. It almost looks like a Bill Plympton cartoon.
It's hard to tell if this mural in France is pro- or anti-Romney (it is pro-yelling), but it's nicely executed.
Nice: Romney takes his dog for a ride in Manhattan.
And Paul Ryan can lay claim to at least one piece of urban art, even if it does show his eyes bleeding.