Voters Pick the Best and Worst Campaign Logos of 2020

If you aren’t familiar with the 2020 presidential candidates’ logos and slogans yet, don’t worry: You will be soon enough. The two dozen hopefuls looking to replace President Trump have been raising money and hiring strategists to help them stand out in the crowded race. A good chunk of that money is set aside for branding and marketing.

The field is still in a state of flux, with a few pragmatic Democrats already ending doomed bids while a handful of coy Republicans and independents continue to drop hints about entering the race. However, the most likely contenders all have released logos and slogans that reflect the ideals of their campaigns.

As the clock ticks toward primary election season, these logos will begin springing up on bumper stickers and roadside signs like mushrooms after a spring rain. Social media feeds will swell with sponsored ads in the candidates’ carefully chosen color palettes and fonts. Every election-related news story will feature aspiring nominees speaking at branded podiums to crowds waving branded placards.

Political branding is nothing new. But there are a few features that stand out in this election cycle:

  • The field is one of the most crowded and most diverse ever, putting more pressure on candidates to differentiate themselves through branding.
  • More candidates are abandoning familiar patriotic color schemes and flag-inspired imagery.
  • Digital communication is more important than ever. Candidates are reaching out to voters via an enormous array of platforms and devices.
  • Nearly half the hopefuls have put themselves on a first-name basis with the American public.
  • The costs are staggering. This election will likely shatter spending records.

To find out how the Class of 2020’s branding resonates with the public, we partnered with an independent research firm to survey 1,258 registered voters across the country and score the campaign materials. In every question and set of instructions, respondents were urged to focus on the graphic design or slogan, not the candidate.

Read on to see what we learned.

Slideshow: Funniest Voters’ Comments on the 2020 Candidate Logos

See more comments here.

Campaign Logo Hits, Misses, and Outright Messes

Good marketing doesn’t necessarily win elections, but it can definitely help. Voters were asked to score each logo on a scale of 1 to 10, setting aside their personal feelings about the candidates and judging solely on the effectiveness of their logos. The voters weren’t universally wowed by any of the designs — none achieved an average score of 8 or higher. But there were logos that generally appealed to both Democrats and Republicans, plus some that clearly missed the mark all around.

Best-Dressed Campaigns

This year’s election cycle is seeing greater diversity just about everywhere, from the candidates’ resumés and personal backgrounds to the styles and approaches of their branding. Voters are responding favorably to some of this distinctiveness, but not all. Democratic front runners Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden lead the pack in logo favorability — although the other Dem favorite, Elizabeth Warren, has the hands-down least popular wordmark.

Sanders’ clever “glasses logo” topped the list of voter favorites, and his more conservative “swoosh” logo landed in third place. Biden’s logos traded off the other top spots at second and fourth place. They shared the top five with a surprise showing from Tulsi Gabbard’s unusual “sunrise gradient” logo, which beat out the Donald Trump solo logo, in sixth place.


One burgeoning trend is first-name-only branding, which the campaign trail is seeing more of this year than ever before. Among the 27 included in this survey, 11 candidates used only their first names in their logos, compared to 12 who used only their last names, and 5 who used both names. Reactions to first-name logos from voters ran the gamut from “friendly” and “accessible” to “overly familiar” and “arrogant.” Voters felt last-name logos were mostly “confident” and “polished” (although the word “boring” also placed high among the descriptions). In general:

  • Republicans are more likely to prefer last names; Democrats prefer first names.
  • While younger people are more accepting of first-name-only candidate logos, only voters in their 30s actually prefer first-name over last-name logos.
  • Many women are turned off by candidates getting too familiar, too fast. Women have a slight preference for last-name logos over first-name ones; men have the opposite preference.


Many survey takers found the growing use of non-traditional colors refreshing (5.05 on a scale of 1-10), but most voters still seem to favor the traditional patriotic palette (5.40). Except Gabbard’s, all the logos in the top five spots — and 14 among the top 20 — flew the red-white-and-blue, although not all in a traditional way.

Still, 12 of the 27 candidates took the risk of living in color, distancing themselves from party affiliations while distinguishing their individual identities. Kamala Harris’ gold-red-and-purple logo was inspired by Shirley Chisholm’s campaign in 1972, and John Hickenlooper’s pays homage to the purple mountains’ majesty of his home state, Colorado. In a surprising result, the survey found that male voters tend to be slightly more receptive (4.92 out of 10) to logos with non-traditional colors than females (4.97).

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The Best and Worst Campaign Slogans of 2020

American presidential campaigns have yielded some truly iconic political slogans. Some inspired hope, like Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s promise in 1932 that “Happy Days Are Here Again” or Barack Obama’s offer in 2008 of “Change We Can Believe In.”  Others were simple and catchy, like Dwight Eisenhower’s “We Like Ike” in 1952 or Lyndon Johnson’s “All the Way With LBJ” in 1964.

Slogans summarize the essence of a campaign in a single phrase. The best ones are usually memorable, concise, and connect to voter concerns. The current election cycle has yielded more than two dozen campaign slogans, but based on voter reviews, none are likely to land in the history books. The highest scorer came in at 6.6 out of 10.

Here’s how the 2020 presidential hopefuls’ slogans fared in our survey.

Best-Dressed Campaigns

Based on the feedback of 1,258 registered voters, the future is a winning theme in the coming election cycle — but bravery is not. Three of the top six slogans specifically use the word “future,” in direct contrast to President Trump’s vision of preserving America’s past greatness. Donald Trump’s secondary slogan “Promises Made, Promises Kept,” did much better with survey takers than his primary message: “Keep America Great.”


The highest-scoring slogan was Bernie Sanders’ “A Future to Believe In.” Survey respondents called it “simple” and fairly “cliché” but also “hopeful,” “optimistic,” and “inspiring.” Tim Ryan’s and John Delaney’s catchphrases elicited similar feedback.

In second place, Elizabeth Warren got praise for her message: “Dream Big. Fight Hard.” Survey respondents said it was a “feel-good message” that also brought to mind the plight of young people brought to the U.S. illegally as children, known as “dreamers.” Longshot candidate Michael Bennet nabbed the third-highest score with his slogan “Building Opportunity Together” — another hopeful and forward-looking theme.

Frontrunner Joe Biden was not as successful in his attempt to paint a rosy picture of the future. Voters said his 16th-place slogan “Our Best Days Still Lie Ahead” managed to be both optimistic and somehow “gloomy” and “a little depressing” at the same time.

Also struggling to make the theme work, Pete Buttigieg landed in 20th place with “A Fresh Start for America.” Although the idea had some appeal, many survey respondents weren’t buying it. “Seems naive. The next president will inherit a huge mess, not a clean slate. This candidate doesn’t seem prepared for that,” remarked a 51-year-old Democratic man from Oregon. “America doesn’t need a fresh start; we need to deal with the problems brought on by the current administration and turn the ship around,” said a 44-year-old female Independent voter from Georgia.


At the bottom of the pack, the two slogans that used the word “brave” were panned by survey respondents. Joe Walsh’s “Be Brave” message was likened to Melania Trump’s less-than-well-received “Be Best” campaign. Voters asked, “Am I joining the army, or voting?” and “Why do I need to be brave? Is something bad going to happen if I vote for you?”

Respondents were also baffled by now-withdrawn Kirsten Gillibrand’s “Brave Wins” message. “What does that even mean? The Atlanta Braves won? This makes no sense as a political slogan,” remarked a 46-year-old male Independent voter from New Mexico.


In ninth and 14th places respectively, Bill de Blasio and Andrew Yang both included the word “first” in their slogans, and the survey takers weren’t impressed. The New York mayor’s “Working People First” slogan offended several voters, like a 31-year-old Democratic woman from New York who asked: “Isn’t that marginalizing anyone who can’t work?” and “What about the young, the elderly, and the disabled? Don’t they count?” Another critic, a 48-year-old Independent woman from Indiana, said, “All people need to feel that they are represented by a candidate, not just those with employment.”

Regarding Yang’s “Humanity First” slogan, voters responded with a resounding, “As opposed to what?” A 37-year-old Republican woman from Nevada asked, “What does that really mean? Humanity First sounds like a response to ‘America First,’ but it’s really vague.”


Several candidates focused on unity and inclusiveness in their slogans. Billionaire outsider Tom Steyer earned a respectable seventh place with his lengthy slogan: “There is nothing more powerful than the unified voice of the American people.” Voters called it “wordy” and “way too long,” and said, “That’s not a slogan, it’s more like an essay!” Nonetheless, the message also was described as “compelling,” “sincere,” and “positive.”

Also generally well-received, Kamala Harris ranked eighth with her courtroom-inspired “For the People” tagline. Bernie Sanders’ alternate slogan just cracked the top 10 with his other slogan “Not Me. Us.” Both messages elicited approval for the candidates’ putting others before themselves.

But other messages with this theme didn’t fare as well. Beto O’Rourke was mocked by many survey takers for his “We’re All in This Together” slogan, which anyone younger than 30 (and most of their parents) will recognize as the title of a song from a Disney movie. “High School Musical called, they want their slogan back,” wrote a 26-year-old Republican man from California.

Cory Booker was also dinged for his “We Rise” slogan, which confused many survey respondents. “Most of us who are still alive rise at some point during the day,” noted a 64-year-old Democratic man from Texas. “Huh? We rise? Who rises? When do we rise? Sunrise? This is too simple and open-ended,” said a 30-year-old Democratic woman from Louisiana.


Several candidates drew criticism for particular words they used. A few voters questioned whether Joe Biden’s use of the word “lie” was wise. “In the current political landscape,  I wouldn’t put the word ‘lie’ in a political slogan,” cautioned a 39-year-old Democratic woman from Virginia.

Steve Bullock might have been channeling the popular musical “Hamilton” and not wanting to throw away his chances with the slogan “A Fair Shot for Everyone.” But the word “shot” didn’t go over well. “Probably not the right climate in America to have gun references in your slogan,” wrote a 59-year-old Democratic woman from Arizona.

Joe Sestak was onto something with his vision of bringing honor and integrity back to public office, but his slogan “Accountability to America” was a turnoff for many voters. “Nice idea, but ‘accountability’ reminds me of an accountant and money. It’s a pretty dry, unexciting slogan,” wrote a 44-year-old Republican woman from Washington.

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The First-Name Game

Joe, Bernie, Pete, Beto, Amy, Cory, Tulsi, Marianne, Tom, Wayne, and another Joe. It’s not the cast of a new sitcom; it’s a list of the political candidates who have chosen to use only their first names in campaign materials. A whopping 11 presidential hopefuls have gambled on the informal, first-name approach. To find out how that’s going over with voters, we crunched the data.

Voters Weigh In on First Names on Political Signs

In an effort to stand out from this year’s crowded field, a greater share of candidates than ever beforeabout 39% are using only their first names on their logos. Some analysts say this influx was fueled by Bernie Sanders’ 2016 campaign logo, which conveyed an informal, friendly message of accessibility. A slightly larger percentage (42%) of candidates stuck with the traditional last-name-only logo, and five of them (19%) used both their first and last names.

11 candidates used their first name only:

  • Amy (Klobuchar)
  • Bernie (Sanders)
  • Beto (O’Rourke)
  • Cory (Booker)
  • Joe (Biden) – 2nd logo
  • Joe (Sestak)
  • Marianne (Williamson)
  • Pete (Buttigieg)
  • Tom (Steyer)
  • Tulsi (Gabbard)
  • Wayne (Messam)

12 candidates used their last name only:

  • (Michael) Bennet
  • (Joe) Biden – 1st logo
  • (Steve) Bullock
  • (Bill) de Blasio
  • (John) Delaney
  • (Kirsten) Gillibrand
  • (John) Hickenlooper
  • (Jay) Inslee
  • (Donald) Trump
  • (Elizabeth) Warren
  • (Bill) Weld
  • (Andrew) Yang

5 candidates used both their first and last names:

  • Julián Castro
  • Kamala Harris

The Pros and Cons of Familiarity

For candidates with first-name recognition, like Beto and Tulsi, the first-name-only approach could work, but it may be less useful for, say, Pete or Amy. With surnames like Buttigieg and Klobuchar, they could be forgiven for taking the first-name gamble — but it’s one that largely did not pay off with survey takers. 

Although voters rated the first-name logos overall as mostly “memorable,” “modern,” and “friendly,” they also ranked them high in the “ugly,” “boring” and “amateur” categories. Last-name logos were deemed largely “confident,” “powerful,” and “polished,” but also “boring” and “cliché.”

Naming conventions broke down among party lines. The first-name gambit seems to be paying off among Democratic voters, who gave logos featuring only first names higher scores than those using just surnames, 5.42 to 5.24. Republicans preferred the more traditional last-name approach 5.74 to 5.40.

Women were more likely to be turned off by excessive familiarity than men. Although the margins were narrow, women scored logos featuring last names more highly at 5.47 than the chummy, first-name versions at 5.41. Men scored the first-name logos a tad higher at 5.42 than those highlighting candidates’ last names at 5.39.

Generally, younger voters are more open to first-name candidate logos than their senior counterparts, but the only group that actually preferred first names to last names were people in their 30s.

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Racing Around the Color Wheel

Liberty green, muted gold, hot pink, majestic purple, a sky’s worth of blues, and even a gradient here and there: No, it’s not your daughter’s dorm room. It’s a campaign palette containing a wider spectrum of logo colors than any previous presidential race has seen. According to some experts, this year’s trend moves away from the traditional red or blue that signals a party affiliation, expanding instead into a rainbow of colors to help each candidate define their distinct identity. We asked survey respondents how the color choices sat with them.

Political Palettes

Of the 27 candidates, 15 used some variation of the traditional red-white-and-blue color scheme (although even those boundaries were pushed, with some blues veering from greenish to grayish and some reds straying into orange territory). The remaining 12 candidate logos essentially covered the spectrum, implementing non-traditional color combos that reached from blue/green through purple/red/gold all the way to black/white, evoking a range of ideas and connotations — as well as skepticism.

Pros and Cons of Non-Traditional Political Palettes

The response to this colorful trend was clear: Survey takers did not taste the rainbow. They overwhelmingly described logos with non-traditional colors as “not political.” And although they followed up with “modern,” there were also descriptions of “ugly,” “weak,” and “amateur.”

Democrats are more receptive to non-traditional colors than Republicans, giving them an average score of 5.11 vs. GOP voters’ 4.91. But both groups preferred red, white, and blue. Dems gave logos in traditional hues an average of 5.45 while Republicans gave them an average of 5.93.

Candidates hoping to appeal to women with pinks and pastels might be missing the mark. Men were more open to creative color palettes than women (by 4.97 to 4.92). However, both genders preferred red, white, and blue. Men gave patriotic-colored logos an average score of 5.44, while women rated them 5.64.

Using purples and greens isn’t necessarily a fast track to the youth vote, either. Although younger people were slightly more open to alternative palettes, every age group scored patriotic-colored logos higher. Voters in their teens and twenties gave logos with non-traditional colors the highest average score (5.14), but they still preferred red, white, and blue (5.57). Voters in their 60s and 70s gave non-traditional logos an average of 4.68, while they gave flag-colored logos an average score of 5.58.

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You Never Get a Second Chance to Make a First Impression

If you dig out your high school yearbook, chances are you’ll find a “Senior Superlatives” section recognizing noteworthy students — from Most Likely to Succeed and Best Smile to Most Likely to Change the World. Along those lines, we asked voters to rank the political Class of 2020’s logos using a list of words with meanings both good and bad. Voters ticked off the qualities they felt each logo exhibited. And they had definite opinions about who the standouts were, and why.

Best Voter Ranked 2020 Political Candidate Logos

The best-received logo overall made creative use of Bernie Sanders’ uncool attributes — a silhouette of his unkempt hair, and glasses adorned by the stars and stripes. Survey takers voted Bernie’s logo Most Likely to Succeed with an overall score of 7.16 out of 10. It also ranked first for qualities like “memorable,” “dynamic,” and “clever.” Sanders and Biden shared the top five spots with Tulsi Gabbard, who ranked high in “modern” and “dynamic” categories and finished just above Trump’s solo logo. (The president did not win for Best Hair, alas.)

The top rankings for positive qualities were dominated by logos for front-runners Biden, Sanders, and Trump, exhibiting “memorable,” “polished,” “confident,” and “powerful” qualities (also highly associated with the traditional red-white-and-blue color palette they all used). But a few wild cards sneaked into top spots for other categories, such as Yang, who ranked high for “dynamic,” “clever,” and “sporty” qualities, and Castro, whose logo was in the top 3 for “polished” and “modern” qualities. Williamson’s pink logo ranked among the most “friendly,” and O’Rourke’s stark black-and-white logo placed third in the “powerful” category.

Worst Voter Ranked 2020 Political Candidate Logos

Among the rankings for negative qualities, Booker’s comic book-esque logo won the “ugly” category, Warren’s navy blue logo won for “boring,” and O’Rourke’s branding was deemed most “gloomy.” Sestak, Steyer and Yang’s logos wrapped up the top spots in the “confusing” and “hard to read” categories. Williamson, Sestak, and Buttigieg took the top three spots for logos that seem “not political (more like a product or business).”

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  • Democratic Candidates
  • Candidate: Michael Bennet
  • Title: U.S. Senator from Colorado since 2009
  • Declared Candidacy: May 2, 2019

Bennet Logo

Bennet’s safe and simple logo, using Source Sans font, ranked in the middle of the pack with a score of 5.04 out of 10. Survey respondents used words like “basic,” “boring,” and “cliché” to describe it. Several found the “for America” superfluous, responding, “Who isn’t for America?” Many also said it reminded them of the old IHOP logo.


Other comments:

“It looks like a food label.”

“It looks like a logo for beans.”

“This looks like a restaurant logo.”

“It’s like we’re going to the GAP.”

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  • Candidate: Joe Biden
  • Title: Former Vice President, 2009-2017, and U.S. Senator from Delaware, 1973-2009
  • Declared Candidacy: April 25, 2019

Biden Logo

Rather than commit to using just his last name or just his first name, front-runner Joe Biden released separate logos featuring one of each. The logos, using the font Brother 1816, were the work of Blue State Digital.

The horizontal version featuring his last name was the voters’ second-favorite logo, scoring 6.91 out of 10. Survey respondents said it looked “American,” “patriotic,” “presidential,” “bold,” and “modern-looking.” However, some felt the omission of the word “for” smacked of entitlement and overconfidence. “I’m not sure why ‘for’ is omitted from the logo. I think it can rub people the wrong way because Biden is not yet a president.”

Other comments:

“Nifty use of the ‘E’ in Biden being those three red lines.”

“It looks like a logo for beans.”

“I like the idea that it sort of states that Biden is a ‘bid’ for office. Clever.”

“This one is professional, like he’s been in it for a while.”

Joe Logo

The round “Joe 2020” version ranked a bit lower, coming in at fourth place with a score of 6.11 out of 10. Survey respondents said it was “eye-catching,” “clever,” “polished,” and gave a “sense of motion.” However, some felt that with so many candidates in the race (including Joe Sestak and Joe Walsh), it was too common a name to stand alone. Several noted the similarity to President Obama’s iconic ‘O’ logo. A couple also said it reminded them of ESPN’s trademark.


Other comments:

“I like the play on the flag.”

“The ‘OE’ looks more like the Ohio flag than the US flag.”

“Wait, who is this for? Joe Biden?”

“Is the candidate ‘Jo’ or ‘Joe’?”

“Not sure if I would have gone with the striped ‘E’ on this. I have an ex named Jo. I should get her a pin.”

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  • Candidate: Cory Booker
  • Title: U.S. Senator from New Jersey since 2013
  • Declared Candidacy: February 1, 2019

Cory Booker Logo

Cory Booker jumped on the first-name train with this simple, blocky, colorful design that ranked in the pack’s bottom third with an overall score of 4.76 out of 10. Many respondents were confused by the color choices, which elicited descriptions of “weird” and “jarring.” The Conductor font, which several described as “cartoonish” or “comic book-ish,” more than once drew comparisons to Marvel Comics’ logo.

Marvel Logo

Other comments:

“The blue is a strange shade — not at all like ‘American’ blue.”

“I’m seeing comic book themes in this one.”

“Pow! Cory 2020! I like the balance — 4 characters on each side. The opposing colors imply that Booker’s got it covered for everyone (black/white, red/blue).”

“Looks a bit like the NPR logo.”

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  • Candidate: Steve Bullock
  • Title: Governor of Montana since 2012
  • Declared Candidacy: May 14, 2019

Marvel Logo

Steve Bullock’s classic logo, using the font FF Kievit Slab, rounded out the top third of the pack with a score of 5.72 out of 10. Responses — whether positive or negative — largely seemed to land in a safe middle range of descriptors: “decent,” “clean,” “familiar,” “serviceable,” “basic,” “standard,” and “entirely average.” It also drew comparison with Frank Underwood’s campaign logo from the TV show House of Cards.

House of Cards Presidential Logo

Other comments:

“Sandra Bullock is running for president?”

“This logo is a bit cliché and uninspired.”

“I like how this image screams ‘America.”

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  • Candidate: Pete Buttigieg
  • Title: Mayor of South Bend, Indiana, since 2011
  • Declared Candidacy: January 23, 2019

Pete Buttigieg Logo

Mayor Pete’s blue-and-gold logo landed in the middle of the pack with a 4.98 out of 10 score for its Aktiv Grotesk font and design by Brooklyn design firm HyperAkt. Several respondents said it reminded them of high school or college sports team apparel. “It’s actually kinda good. It feels like a high school basketball logo: ‘The fighting Petes are going all the way to the finals!’ ” remarked a 44-year-old male Democrat from Michigan. The collegiate feel drew mixed reviews, with some questioning whether it was a wise move for the youngest candidate in the race (who graduated in 2007). Still others referenced blue jeans logos like Wranglers or Levi’s.

Levis Logo

Other comments:

“Looks like it belongs on a beer bottle.”

“This one is confusing because you don’t know if is political, sports, or a product.”

“It feels like it’s a logo of a classy restaurant.”

“Was Pete Rose #20?”

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  • Candidate: Julián Castro
  • Title: U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, 2014-2017
  • Declared Candidacy: January 12, 2019

Julian Castro Logo

The logo for Julián Castro uses the Mallory Black font and earned an overall score of 5.80 out of 10, ranking it just inside the Top 10. Several survey respondents remarked on the accent over the ‘A,’ which they imagined was to help emphasize his Latino heritage. Many others had opinions on the colors; some called them “attractive” and “memorable” while others disliked the shade of blue or felt the design lacked the requisite red for a presidential campaign logo.

Other comments:

“The blue is the wrong shade for this country.”

“Looks nice but still wouldn’t stick in my head.”

“The accent mark makes it seem like it’s Juli An!”

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  • Candidate: John Delaney
  • Title: Former U.S. Representative from Maryland, 2012-2016
  • Declared Candidacy: July 28, 2017

John Delaney Logo

The first Democrat to announce a 2020 campaign, Delaney is running with a logo that uses the Avant Garde font of Rally Campaigns. The design earned him a middling spot with an overall score of 5.68 out of 10. Largely lukewarm responses included “good,” “clean,” “generic,” “professional,” “average” and “cookie-cutter.” Some compared it to an airline logo. Many focused on the red and blue stripes in the ‘D,’ some interpreting them as forming a road, and others remarking on their similarity to the iconic ‘O’ in Obama’s logo.

Obama Logomark

Other comments:

“This looks like a class president ad for a high school to me.”

“I like the ‘inference’ of a highway (or road) for all people to travel.”

“The red and blue of the first letter is reminiscent of a highway indicating moving forward. It specifies what the race is for, but still has too much blank space.”

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  • Candidate: Tulsi Gabbard
  • Title: U.S. Representative from Hawaii since 2012
  • Declared Candidacy: January 11, 2019

Tulsi Gabbard Logo

The Harmonia Sans font and color gradient in Tulsi Gabbard’s logo were the subject of many comments from survey respondents. While the consensus was that the design distinguishes it and makes it memorable, opinions diverged on whether the overall effect was good, bad, or just confusing. “The letter color fusing seems to say, ‘I don’t know who I am,’ ” remarked a 49-year-old female Independent voter from Georgia. Several also said the logo reminded them of a travel poster. Regardless, the logo ranked at #5 with an overall score of 6.1 out of 10.

Other comments:

“It’s kind of mysterious and makes me want to learn more.”

“I don’t know if it’s supposed to be a sunset or sunrise; those have very different connotations.”

“Something really irritating about the color gradation here, but I’m wondering if it’s supposed to be referencing a sun, like dawn of a new day? Is this actually a play on visuals? That’s kind of neat, now that I’m thinking on it. Just bumped it up from 4 to 7.”

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  • Candidate: Kamala Harris
  • Title: U.S. Senator from California since 2016
  • Declared Candidacy: January 21, 2019

Kamala Harris Logo on Yellow Background

Kamala Harris Logo

Harris presented two logos using the Bureau Grot font styled by Wide Eye Creative: one version with a yellow background, one on white. Both ranked consecutively near the bottom with scores of 4.72 and 4.7 out of 10, and each version generated more than 70 comments, many of them reflecting confusion. “Interesting, non-standard look. If I didn’t already know her, though, I might think that was the title of a stand-up special or something,” said a 35-year-old male Independent voter from North Carolina. Many respondents said the logos look like branding for a TV show, Broadway play, or book cover. 

unbreakable kimmy schmidt logo

 joseph and the amazing technicolor dreamcoat logo

Other comments:

“I don’t like the color palette for this one and it looks cluttered.”

“It’s bold and it has a cool 1970’s action movie poster vibe going on with the message and the font. I like how her name and ‘people’ are the same size.”

“It’s vaguely reminiscent of Soviet-era Russia… I have no idea why.”

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  • Candidate: Amy Klobuchar
  • Title: U.S. Senator from Minnesota since 2006
  • Declared Candidacy: February 10, 2019

Amy Klobuchar Logo

Designed by GPS Impact, the green Mackay font of Klobuchar’s first-name logo did not sit well with respondents, especially when mixed with two other colors and fonts. Her logo ranked near the bottom with a 4.52 score out of 10. Many commenters felt that it looks amateurish, while others said that first-name campaigns are for those with name recognition. Though a few found the greens and blues refreshing, most others found them inappropriate for a U.S. political campaign — and some compared the logo to a cookbook cover or plant nursery logo.

Plant It Forward Farms Logo

Other comments:

“Shouldn’t all the candidates be for America?”

“Three different fonts, three different colors … and green, when she’s not the Green Party candidate? Nope.”

“I like the colors and how it is simple yet memorable.”

“It looks more a sign for a teenager running for student council.”

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  • Candidate: Wayne Messam
  • Title: Mayor of Miramar, Florida since 2015
  • Declared Candidacy: March 13, 2019

Wayne Messam Logo

Messam’s logo drew descriptions of “straightforward,” “bold,” and “classic” — as well as “meh,” “safe,” and “OK” — landing it in the middle with a score of 4.91 out of 10. Some respondents had a problem with the disparate size of Messam’s name looming over “America.” The largest contingent of commenters noted that the colors and familiar Montserrat font bear a strong resemblance to the former logo of a certain corporate giant: “Reminds me of Walmart — so it’s Americana.”

Walmart Logo

Other comments:

“Makes me think of Batman, for some reason.”

“Doesn’t make me want to learn more about him.”

“I thought John Wayne was dead? And isn’t everyone from America?”

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  • Candidate: Beto O’Rourke
  • Title: Former U.S. Representative from Texas, 2013-2019
  • Declared Candidacy: March 14, 2019

Beto O'Rourke Logo

Using the Prohibition font designed by Stanton Street, O’Rourke’s logo placed in the middle of the rankings with 5.42 out of 10, and drew opinions as starkly opposed as its color scheme. One camp characterized the black-and-white as “harsh,” “ominous,” “militaristic,” and “dystopian,” with references to George Orwell’s 1984, Nazi Germany, Soviet Russia, and World War II. Another camp called it “strong,” “modern,” “bold,” and “impactful.” There were also several spot-on design comparisons, including a military logo, the parental advisory sticker — and, perhaps most endearingly, a spicy ketchup packet from fast-food restaurant Whataburger (beloved in O’Rourke’s home state of Texas).

Other comments:

“It really stands out. Almost like it punches you in the face.”

“The black makes it seem like it would be a logo for a rock band but not a political candidate.”

“Looks kind of evil.”

“I can’t help but feel this is something I would see in a store like Hot Topic.”

– Back to Candidate List –

  • Candidate: Tim Ryan
  • Title: U.S. Rep. for Ohio since 2002
  • Declared Candidacy: April 4, 2019

Tim Ryan Logo

Survey respondents had a range of opinions about the classic color scheme of Tim Ryan’s logo — too unbalanced, derivative, off-putting; the blue is too light, the red too dark. A 24-year-old female independent voter from New Mexico said, “I love how smooth this logo is, and it also just screams America,” while a 64-year-old male Democrat from Texas responded with a virtual eye roll, “How novel. A name in red, white, and blue.” The majority sided with the latter, giving the logo and its Open Sans font an overall score of 4.37 out of 10 to land it in third-to-last place. Also, several commenters agreed that it looks like a news logo.

Walmart Logo

Other comments:

“It looks like a newscaster’s name.”

“Can’t tell if they are R or D, can’t even tell it’s for a political position.”

“Ugly makes it memorable — it’s hard on the eyes.”

– Back to Candidate List –

  • Candidate: Bernie Sanders
  • Title: U.S. Senator for Vermont since 2006
  • Declared Candidacy: February 19, 2019

Bernie Sanders Logo

Sanders’ “swoosh” logo, which rated an overall score of 6.84 out of 10, ranks third behind only Biden and Sanders’ own “glasses” logo. The font used for both is Jubilat, styled by Revolution Messaging. Respondents gave descriptions from “crisp,” “clean,” and “sharp” to “average,” “generic,” and “traditional,” the consensus being that it has everything a classic campaign logo needs. The swoosh and the star were the most noted features, each with fans and detractors. And like a lot of things about the quirky politician, Sanders’ campaign logos have elicited lots of jokes — like a well-documented comparison to this classic toothpaste logo:

Aquafresh Logo

Other comments:

“It remains adequately pleasant.”

“Elegant and somehow conveys the sympathetic nature of his policies.”

“The best political logo I’ve seen in several years.”

“I see the name ‘Bernie’ and think of the movie ‘Weekend at Bernie’s’.”

“Color, movement, simplicity. And stars. There should always be stars.”

Bernie Sanders Logo with Silhouette

This irreverent logo, which plays on Sanders’ distinctly uncool silhouette, tops the list at an overall score of 7.16 out of 10. Many respondents cited its creative humor, visual novelty, and youthful appeal as reasons for ranking it highly, although some others rated it too “juvenile,” “immature” or “unprofessional” for someone aspiring to the highest office in the land. A 33-year-old male Libertarian from Pennsylvania summed it up by saying, “People who love him will love it. People who hate him will hate it. As a design element, it is clever and hits on his brand well.”

Other comments:

“What am I looking at?”

“Absolutely captures the spirit of Bernie. This is awesome!”

“It just looks weird. Sorry, Bernie.”

“Love the design. It is powerful, dynamic and memorable.”

“He’s too old to have cool glasses.”

“Why does it depict a headshot of Elton John?”

– Back to Candidate List –

  • Candidate: Joe Sestak
  • Title: Former U.S. Navy admiral, 1974-2006, and U.S. Rep for Pennsylvania, 2006-2011
  • Declared Candidacy: June 22, 2019

Joe Sestak  Logo

While some applauded its strong Overpass font and classic colors, Sestak’s logo also generated more than 90 comments and a lot of confusion. Not everyone was familiar with the abbreviation for “Admiral.” A 31-year-old Democratic woman from Pennsylvania asked, “Who on earth is this? Is Adm Joe an abbreviation? A name?” There were reservations about the image of the globe, the un-catchiness of the slogan, and — most pronounced — the unnerving impression of an eye. The logo ranked near the bottom with a 4.39 score out of 10.

Big Brother is Watching You Logo

Other comments:

“Looks like big brother is watching you!”

“Looks like an old NASA T-shirt design.”

“Looks like the candidate is trying to take over the world.”

“Looks like a bad small business logo.”

“Looks like it was made 25 years ago on Microsoft paint.”

“Looks like the logo for an evil multinational conglomerate in an 80s dystopian film.”

“Looks like they want to clean my carpet.”

– Back to Candidate List –

  • Candidate: Tom Steyer
  • Title: Billionaire hedge fund manager
  • Declared Candidacy: July 9, 2019

Joe Sestak  Logo

The use of a first name only in Steyer’s logo was the biggest point of contention among survey respondents, especially for a candidate with extremely low name recognition. “I follow politics pretty closely, and I don’t know who this is. I can’t imagine a typical low-information voter would find this useful,” noted a 38-year-old male Democrat from Kentucky. Other issues included color, font, and balance. The logo ranked among the bottom with a score of 4.4 out of 10.

Other comments:

“I personally love this color blue.”

“This looks like a campaign sticker from the 60s. His ideas are probably outdated, too.”

“It’s just an eyesore.”

“I don’t know the last name and even though it is in big text, I don’t think it would push me to go find out more information about the candidate.”

– Back to Candidate List –

  • Candidate: Elizabeth Warren
  • Title: U.S. Senator for Massachusetts since 2012
  • Declared Candidacy: February 9, 2019

Elizabeth Warren Logo

For both of Warren’s logos, designed by Bully Pulpit Interactive, the colors and Ringside font were the subject of much comment by survey respondents. The darker logo ranked in the lower half with an overall score of 4.75 out of 10. Many were confused by its single-word simplicity and unusual color choice, like the commenter who expressed the general consensus: “The green looks like the color of the Statue of Liberty, which is nice. That’s a different kind of patriotic color. But the design is a snoozefest. The font is really harsh,” commented a 47-year-old female independent voter from Florida. More than one compared it to an automobile logo.

Elizabeth Warren Logo

Other comments:

“It feels like GM introduced a new car brand and called it the ‘Warren.’”

“This just looks threatening. She has a hard type of last name, I never noticed until seeing it huge and emblazoned in this way. WAR … scary.”

Elizabeth Warren Logo on light green background

The light-green logo for Warren ranked ten spots lower than its counterpart, in dead-last place with a score of 3.89 over 10. The “Liberty green” color was one source of controversy, with its share of both allies and detractors. It was the font and oversimplified design, though, that seemed to elicit the most confusion and criticism, like “This logo is exceedingly dull and overly minimalistic,” said a 28-year-old Democratic man from Pennsylvania. “The green is not appealing when running to be the president of U.S.,” said a 31-year-old Republican woman from Texas.

Other comments:

“A little too minimalistic for someone as dynamic as Warren”

“No year? No ‘merica propaganda? I do dig that it’s one with a last name instead of first; it seems more serious than presumptuous.”

“What is this even about?”

– Back to Candidate List –

  • Candidate: Marianne Williamson
  • Title: Author and lecturer
  • Declared Candidacy: January 28, 2019

Marianne Williamson Logo

Williamson’s logo employs an uncommon color and a font (named FattiPatti) that generated a lot of opinions among survey takers — and ranked it second-to-last on the list with a score of 4.34 out of 10. While some commenters liked the pink, some compared it to Pepto-Bismol, Dunkin Donuts, and Disney princesses, while others decried the color’s implied connection with a female candidate. Many declared the color unpresidential. “It doesn’t look like the logo of someone who is running to become President of the US, more like something for a brand of dolls. Barbie, maybe?” remarked a 58-year-old Democratic woman from New York.

Barbie Logo

Other comments:

“Disney princess for president?”

“Pink = NO = esp if your name is Marianne. Might as well make it gingham with pigtails.”

“Looks like it belongs on a Barbie Dream House or a Reese Witherspoon movie”

– Back to Candidate List –

  • Candidate: Andrew Yang
  • Title: Billionaire businessman
  • Declared Candidacy: November 6, 2017

Andrew Yang Logo

Although the majority of commenters expressed confusion about the spelling of Yang’s name because of the stylized Halyard Display font designed by Hannah Liz White, his logo still ranked among the Top 10 with an overall score of 5.81 out of 10. Descriptions included “eye-catching,” “appealing,” “stylish,” and “engaging.” More than one called attention to the fact that the stylized “swoosh” resembles a church logo.

Methodist Church Logo

Presbyterian Church Logo

Other comments:

“A one-name sign shouldn’t be hard to read.”

“I like that they did at least something with the design to make it stand out.”

“Too loud and I can’t even make out the name… it is Lang, Tang, Yang?”

– Back to Candidate List –

  • Republican Candidates
  • Candidate: Donald Trump
  • Title: 45th President of the United States
  • Declared Candidacy: January 20, 2017

Donald Trump Logo

Trump’s solo logo, using the familiar Montserrat font, ranked 6th overall with a score of 6.01 out of 10. Responses ranged from “classic,” “strong” and “memorable” to “rigid,” “egocentric,” and “cliché.” Although respondents were asked to rate the logo, not the candidate, this was likely the most difficult instance for them to achieve that. Several echoed the 33-year-old Democratic man from New York who said, “Although I may not like the candidate, the design is memorable and it focuses on the most important aspects, the candidate and his slogan.” Many commenters enjoyed the border and the stars.

Other comments:

“Has the basic appearance of a license plate. It’s an effective logo.”

“It looks like one of those plastic vanity license plates little kids put on their tricycles. Probably because of the box around it. The colors are patriotic, but it’s hard to take seriously.”

“This is one of the most impressive banners I have ever seen. It captures patriotism, brilliance, success, and love.”

Trump and Pence Logo

Trump’s joint logo with Pence keeps essentially the same elements but ranked slightly lower in 10th place with an overall 5.73 score out of 10. The comments largely mirrored those for the other logo; Trump supporters loved it, many detractors grudgingly acknowledged its validity — and many applauded the border and the stars.

Other comments:

“Sorry, no way to separate evil regime from a PTSD-inducing logo.”

“Like the balance, almost like an upside-down pyramid.”

“Perfection! It screams simplicity, familiarity and America!”

– Back to Candidate List –

  • Candidate: Mark Sanford
  • Title: Former Governor and U.S. Representative from South Carolina
  • Declared Candidacy: September 8, 2019

Mark Sanford Logo

Sanford entered the race too late for his logo to be included in the survey. However, with the stars and lines, there are inescapable similarities to the logo of the man he hopes to unseat.

– Back to Candidate List –

  • Candidate: Joe Walsh
  • Title: Former U.S. Representative from Illinois, 2011-2013
  • Declared Candidacy: August 25, 2019

Joe Walsh Logo

Walsh entered the race at the same time survey was launched. His slogan was included in the study, but his logo was not.

– Back to Candidate List –

  • Candidate: Bill Weld
  • Title: Former Governor of Massachusetts, 1991-1997
  • Declared Candidacy: April 15, 2019

Bill Weld Logo

Weld’s logo landed at the halfway mark in the rankings with an overall score of 5.04 out of 10 and garnered comments of “bold,” “simple,” “standard,” “plain,” and “typical.” A 35-year-old Democratic man from New Mexico said, “The most cliché a political logo could be.” Another said it bears a strong resemblance to the Fox News logo.

Fox News Logo

Other comments:

“It looks like a food label.”

“It looks like a logo for beans.”

“This looks like a restaurant logo.”

“It’s like we’re going to the GAP.”

– Back to Candidate List –

  • Withdrawn Candidates
  • Candidate: Bill de Blasio
  • Title: Mayor of New York City since 2013
  • Declared Candidacy: May 16, 2019
  • Ended Campaign: September 20, 2019

Bill de Blasio Logo

The varied Acier font and especially the uncommon color choice for de Blasio’s logo drew the majority of comments and placed it in the bottom third with an overall score of 4.74 out of 10. While some of those surveyed applauded the novelty of the green, most decried the shade and compared it to logos for health-care companies, small banks, or furniture stores.

Other comments:

“Why green?”

“I’m torn on this one. I sort of like it but I sort of hate it.”

“This looks like an ad for a bank that will just keep sending me emails I don’t want.”

– Back to Candidate List –

  • Candidate: Kirsten Gillibrand
  • Title: U.S. Senator for New York
  • Declared Candidacy: March 17, 2019
  • Ended Campaign: March 17, 2019

Kirsten Gillibrand Logo

The overlapping of the Navigo Bold font and the bold color combination for Gillibrand’s logo caused a commotion, ranking it near the bottom with a 4.47 score out of 10. It garnered more than 80 responses, but a few summed up the consensus: “Doesn’t seem presidential at all. The color scheme is an instant turn-off.” Others were “not a fan of the overlapping text.” Several thought it looked like a logo for a range of endeavors, including a podcast, horror movie, makeup company, workout gym for women only, a Comedy Central special, and the Powerpuff Girls.

Makeup Artist Logo

Only Womens Fitness Logo

Other comments:

“Feels like a Girl-Boss logo.”

“I’m a lady candidate, so it’s pink!”

“Ultra low effort. ‘I need a logo.’ ‘Okay, put your name underneath 2020.’ ‘That’s inspired.’ ”

“Weird flex, but NO!!!”

– Back to Candidate List –

  • Candidate: John Hickenlooper
  • Title: former Governor of Colorado
  • Declared Candidacy: March 4, 2019
  • Ended Campaign: August 15, 2019

John Hickenlooper Logo

Hickenlooper’s logo, using Proxima Nova, takes greater chances with design than most, employing unusual colors to evoke both the U.S. flag’s stars and stripes and his home state of Colorado. This worked well for many respondents, earning the logo a 7th-place rank with a score of 5.83 out of 10. Many had reservations about using regional imagery for a national campaign (“… I don’t know that the whole country cares about purple mountains’ majesty…”), while several others noted a resemblance to the logos of adventure sportswear companies.

Kelty Logo

REI Logo

Other comments:

“Nothing can help this name, not even the star or Egypt’s three pyramids.”

“This is beautiful, love the motif and color. Very modern and confident.”

“There has to be a country with a flag like the background but it’s not mine, probably good for an anarchist’s platform.”

– Back to Candidate List –

  • Candidate: Jay Inslee
  • Title: Governor of Washington since 2016
  • Declared Candidacy: March 1, 2019
  • Ended Campaign: August 21, 2019

Jay Inslee Logo

Inslee’s logo drew more fire than its serene design would suggest. The Montserrat font, half-globe, and muted colors placed it in the middle of the pack with a score of 4.88 out of 10. Several respondents commented that it resembles a business or TED talk logo. “Why does the earth look like a CD-ROM? It looks like the free software AOL sent out everywhere the 1990s,” noted a 46-year-old independent woman from Colorado.

TED Talks Logo


Other comments:

“Gradients are sooo 2007.”

“Not very presidential/political. It looks like a product brand.”

“No patriotic colors used. Additionally, comes across too business-like.”

“Is that supposed to be the earth? Are they running for president of the earth?”

– Back to Candidate List –

  • Candidate: Seth Moulton
  • Title: U.S. Rep. for Massachusetts since 2014
  • Declared Candidacy: April 22, 2019
  • Ended Campaign: August 23, 2019

Seth Moulton Logo

“I don’t understand what’s going on with the star. It looks like a mouse pointer or a paper airplane,” remarked a 40-year-old Democratic woman from Florida about Moulton’s logo, which fell in the middle of the rankings with its overall 5.43 score out of 10. The star was the sticking point for many survey-takers, whether they loved it or hated it. The League Gothic font and the varied colors also divided commenters; some applauded its clean design and approachability, and others had plenty of ideas for changing the shades.

Other comments:

“Love that star design — makes you keep looking, not just glance at it.”

“I hate the red with that blue. I’m also confused what’s going on with the star/arrow thing.”

“I don’t even know what they were trying to achieve with the star. The top portion looks like the logo for a daytime talk show.”

“Dear Seth, if you have to explain the meaning of the star, you lost the race. And you lost me.”

– Back to Candidate List –

  • Candidate: Eric Swalwell
  • Title: U.S. Rep. for California since 2012
  • Declared Candidacy: April 8, 2019
  • Ended Campaign: July 8, 2019

Eric Swalwell Logo

Using the font Industry Inc., Swalwell’s logo ranked just above the middle spot with an overall score of 5.31 out of 10. Not surprisingly, it also reminded many respondents of the American flag. While some enjoyed this fact (“This one is pretty cool how it turns into the flag”), others felt it was a “little too patriotic.”

Other comments:

“It’s direct but probably too direct.”

“I’m not sure what I do or don’t like about this. It feels like my dislike and like are fighting each other to make it neutral.”

“It’s meh. It’s too retro. It feels like Top Gun for some reason.”

“AMERICA. Let’s just make our logo the flag! That will get them!”

– Back to Candidate List –

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From “It’s Morning Again in America” to “Yes, We Can” and beyond, branding is an important part of any political campaign. This is especially true in an election cycle like this one, which began with such a crowded and varied field of challengers. Candidates are taking all the measures they can to stand out from the crowd and establish themselves positively in the minds of voters — which has resulted in several trends and a new look for this year’s campaign trail.

A more diverse group of candidates is represented by more adventurous design approaches. In fashioning their logos, nearly half the hopefuls ventured outside the traditional patriotic U.S. political palette, although survey results show that many voters aren’t ready to give up the red-white-and-blue just yet.

Findings were similar for the names candidates chose to use on their logos. Although first-name-only logos are clearly on the rise — with the friendly, informal impressions they give — a slightly larger contingent of voters still seems to prefer the confidence and polish emitted by logos featuring surnames.

Overall, voters agree that — well, they want it all. A political logo and slogan should be clear, concise, and memorable, making the candidate seem confident and powerful, yet also friendly and accessible. Favorite logos are clever, even funny, but the candidates they represent should also be serious and down-to-earth. Modern and forward-thinking but also classic and traditional. Solid yet dynamic. Personable yet presidential. The good news is, with a campaign trail this crowded, the chances of getting what we want are better than ever.

At Crestline, we’ve been leaders in the promotional products industry for more than 50 years, providing world-class customer service and an exceptional line of products. We are experts in brand promotion and offer more than 100,000 different items that can be customized to help your brand project just the right image and stand out as unique and memorable.

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We commissioned an independent research firm to survey 1,258 U.S. residents who are registered voters. The survey was conducted online. Respondents were asked to evaluate 32 logos for 27 candidates. (Five prominent candidates had substantially different versions of their logos, so we had the respondents evaluate both images. Those candidates were Sanders, Biden, Trump, Harris, and Warren).

We also had respondents evaluate 28 slogans for 24 candidates. (Three candidates had more than one slogan. They were Sanders, Warren, and Trump.)

In every question and set of instructions, respondents were urged to focus on the design or slogan, not the candidate.

The respondents were 53% male, 47% female. They ranged in age from 18 to 73. They came from 48 states and the District of Columbia. (There were no responses from South Dakota or Wyoming.)

Nearly two-thirds (63.2%) of the respondents were college graduates. In terms of educational attainment, they reported:

  • Less than high school: .3%
  • High school: 9.7%
  • Some college: 26.8%
  • Graduated college: 43.4%
  • Some graduate school: 4.8%
  • Completed graduate degree: 15%

In terms of political affiliation, the respondents were:

  • Registered Democrats: 45.9%
  • Registered Republicans: 27.6%
  • Independent, no affiliation: 23.1%
  • Other party: 3.4%

The respondents described their political leanings as follows:

  • Conservative: 16%
  • Lean conservative: 14%
  • Moderate/Independent: 20.5%
  • Lean liberal: 25.3%
  • Liberal: 24.2%

When asked about the 2016 election:

  • Voted for Donald Trump: 30%
  • Voted for Hillary Clinton 45%
  • Voted for third-party candidate: 9.4%
  • Did not vote: 12.9%
  • Rather not say: 2.7%

If you’re a blogger or journalist interested in covering this project, feel free to share or reproduce any of the images above. All we ask is that you please credit Crestline Custom Promotional Products and link to this page so your audience can find out more about the study and its methodology.


Sarah Reeves sat on her couch in Eugene, Oregon, staring at her laptop screen in furious disbelief. She was reading the website of a government agency, where her mother appeared to have posted a comment weighing in on a bitter policy battle for control of the internet. Something was very wrong.

For a start, Annie Reeves, who loved to lead children’s sing-alongs at the Alaska Zoo, had never followed wonky policy debates. She barely knew her way around the web, let alone held strident views on how it should be regulated — and, according to her daughter, she definitely didn’t post angry comments on government websites.

But Sarah Reeves had a more conclusive reason to feel sure her mother’s name had been taken in vain: Annie Reeves was dead. She died more than a year before the comment was posted.

Celeste Noche for BuzzFeed News

Sarah Reeves holds a family photo of herself and her late mother, Annie Reeves, on Sept. 20 in Eugene, Oregon.

In the spring of 2017, a virtual war was raging over the future of the internet, much of it through comments on the website of the Federal Communications Commission — the government agency responsible for regulating the broadband industry. Reeves wasn’t the only ghost to get sucked in from beyond the grave to do battle on behalf of giant telecommunications companies such as AT&T and Comcast.

At issue was a rule from the Obama era known as “net neutrality.” It was designed to protect the open web by requiring internet providers to treat traffic from all sites equally — and under Trump, the FCC was planning to scrap it. Conservatives had long branded the regulation as an assault on free enterprise, but advocates warned that its repeal would allow the broadband giants to manipulate traffic in favor of the highest-paying platforms, crowding out competition and stifling free speech. The stakes were high, and the public comment period attracted a staggering 22 million submissions.

The problem was, many of the comments were fake.

The New York attorney general opened an investigation and has since issued subpoenas to more than a dozen entities — estimating that “as many as 9.6 million comments may have used stolen identities.” But the FCC went ahead and scrapped the net neutrality rule in a massive victory for the broadband industry and a huge blow, consumer advocates said, for users. Some suspicious comments have been tracked back to particular political operatives. But the question of how millions of identities were marshaled without consent has largely remained a mystery. Until now.

A BuzzFeed News investigation — based on an analysis of millions of comments, along with court records, business filings, and interviews with dozens of people — offers a window into how a crucial democratic process was skewed by one of the most prolific uses of political impersonation in US history. In a key part of the puzzle, two little-known firms, Media Bridge and LCX Digital, working on behalf of industry group Broadband for America, misappropriated names and personal information as part of a bid to submit more than 1.5 million statements favorable to their cause.

The FCC proceeding is not the only public debate to have been compromised. BuzzFeed News also found that LCX, an obscure advertising agency based in Southern California, has worked on at least two other campaigns that raised similar impersonation allegations — issues that were so alarming that state legislators in South Carolina and Texas referred the matters to law enforcement. Media Bridge, a political consultancy based in Virginia, also participated in the South Carolina campaign.

The rise of political impersonation threatens a core aspect of US democracy: the process by which federal agencies canvass public opinion before enacting new regulations. The process is not the same as voting, and the results aren’t binding — but they provide a forum for public debate, and officials are obliged to consider all viewpoints submitted, making them a crucible for lobbying by powerful interests.

The internet has made it possible for these consultations to be conducted virtually, vastly extending their reach in an apparent leap forward for digital-era democracy. But there’s little stopping anyone from submitting statements under fake — or misappropriated — identities.

The anti–net neutrality comments harvested on behalf of Broadband for America, the industry group that represented telecommunications giants including AT&T, Cox, and Comcast, were uploaded to the FCC website by Media Bridge founder Shane Cory, a former executive director of both the Libertarian Party and the conservative sting group Project Veritas. Cory has claimed credit for “20 or 30” major public advocacy campaigns in recent years, including, he says, record-setting submissions to the IRS, Environmental Protection Agency, Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, and “probably a handful of others.” On Media Bridge’s website, the company has described itself as having expertise in “overwhelming government agencies” with avalanches of public submissions, and has publicly dubbed its approach to marshaling comments the “Big Hammer.”

In the FCC campaign, Cory was working for Ralph Reed — a high-powered political strategist and titan of the Christian right who himself was working for Broadband for America. Cory, in turn, enlisted LCX Digital to find the commenters.

Lee Celano / WireImage for Temple St. Clair

John Hilinski

LCX, which in the past has also worked with Mary Cheney, the daughter of former vice president Dick Cheney and a powerful political consultant in her own right, was cofounded by John Hilinski, a digital ad man with a record of deception. He has claimed publicly that he cofounded the search engine AltaVista, which he didn’t, and that he has a master’s degree in business administration from the University of Southern California, which he doesn’t. He has also claimed that he toured in the band Jane’s Addiction — another apparent fabrication.

In a sworn deposition, a cofounder of LCX described the business as a “completely fraudulent” enterprise that had routinely faked data in its corporate work.

Hilinski did not respond to BuzzFeed News’ requests for comment; nor did Broadband for America.

A letter from Reed’s lawyer to BuzzFeed News said that any suggestion that he or his company, Century Strategies, “knowingly and willingly used the names and identities of individuals without their permission in comments” would be “false and defamatory.” Moreover, the letter said, Century Strategies had “directed its partners and vendors to follow above-industry standards, including requiring individuals to provide name, address, email, and phone number to verify who they are.”

The letter added that “Century Strategies also was assured by these vendors that they utilized extensive data validation to verify all names and addresses using public databases.”

Agata Nowicka for BuzzFeed News

Shane Cory

Media Bridge also vigorously denied engaging in comment fraud. A letter from Cory’s lawyer, Bob Barr, a former Georgia representative, accused BuzzFeed News of preparing a “hit-piece” and noted that “Media Bridge professionally submitted comments to the FCC without hiding its identity, and provided contact information in the event there were any issues with their submissions — unlike the individuals who submitted many millions of comments from adult websites, foreign accounts and clearly fabricated data sets.”

LCX and Media Bridge are far from the only operators whose comment campaigns have been called into question. Fraudulent comments on both sides poured into the FCC during the net neutrality debate, and are an increasing problem for policymakers at the state and national level.

Still, the way the LCX and Media Bridge were able to overwhelm the FCC with questionable comments lays bare a new weapon political consultants can wield to promote the interests of the powerful, with potentially shattering ramifications for democracy.

“Spend a million dollars with Media Bridge,” Cory’s company told prospective clients in a post on its website, “and most likely, you’ll have a million people advocating for your position.”

Bloomberg / Getty Images

A demonstrator opposed to the roll back of net neutrality rules outside the Federal Communications Commission headquarters ahead of a open commission meeting in Washington, D.C., on Dec. 14, 2017.


The battle lines of the 2017 comment war over net neutrality were drawn in 2014.

Tom Wheeler, President Obama’s appointee to head the FCC, announced the agency would consider two competing approaches to prevent internet providers from blocking or slowing down access to certain websites.

Federal agencies publish thousands of proposals for new rules every year, and whenever they do, they are almost always required to put the plans up for comment. Anyone can weigh in, and the agency must take all viewpoints into consideration.

Officials insist that it’s the substance of the comments — not the quantity — that counts, but agencies often do publish tallies, potentially giving a boost to whichever side of the debate assembles a better cheering squad.

When the FCC opened the 2014 net neutrality proposal up for public comments, both the telecommunication industry, on the anti-regulation side, and progressive consumer groups, on the pro-regulation side, ran campaigns to flood the agency with responses from everyday Americans.

John Oliver dedicated a 13-minute segment to the topic, introducing the once-obscure debate to a mass audience. Despite its boring name, “net neutrality is actually hugely important,” he told viewers, later drawing comparisons between internet providers and the Mafia, and suggesting that “Protecting Net Neutrality” be rephrased to “Preventing Cable Company F**kery.”

At the end of the segment, Oliver exhorted his audience to send comments to the FCC supporting the cause. “We need you to get out there and, for once in your lives, focus your indiscriminate rage in a useful direction!” he said. “Seize your moments, my lovely trolls!”

The broadband industry, meanwhile, plowed millions of dollars into lobbying campaigns to drum up opposition to the ruling.

Cory says he helped the conservative nonprofit American Commitment muster nearly 800,000 submissions opposing net neutrality — a vast proportion of what was, at the time, the biggest-ever public response to a federal consultation, with nearly 4 million public comments.

American Commitment claimed a “landslide” victory. Still, the FCC’s five commissioners voted 3–2 to pass a strong version of the net neutrality rule, with Democrats in favor and Republicans opposed. By 2015, the obligation to treat all traffic equally had been imposed on all broadband operators in the US.

Then Donald Trump was elected. And his new appointee to run the agency, Ajit Pai, soon took aim at Obama’s “open internet” rules.

Alex Wong / Getty Images

FCC Chair Ajit Pai listens during a commission meeting on Dec. 14, 2017, in Washington, DC.

When Pai opened the repeal plan for public comment in the spring of 2017, both sides of the debate squared up for a rematch of the earlier fight.

Oliver again called on his viewers, causing such a flood of comments that the FCC’s website crashed.

The telecom side got to work too. Suddenly, despite polling showing substantial support for net neutrality, Americans appeared to be flocking online to defend the rights of the telecom giants.

Almost immediately, observers started sounding alarms. The tech publication ZDNet found that “anti-net neutrality spammers are flooding FCC’s pages with fake comments” and that several people whose names appeared as commenters said they had not posted a word. Reporters at Gizmodo and the Verge found similar examples.

Pro–net neutrality comments were called into question, too. Nearly 8 million identical one-sentence comments supporting the existing regulations were tied to email addresses from FakeMailGenerator.com. Many of those used plausible names but with nonsensical street-and-city combinations that do not exist. Another million comments, also supporting net neutrality, claimed to come from people with @pornhub.com email addresses.

By the time the comment period closed at the end of August, the number of comments had obliterated all previous records, with more than five times as many as the last time the issue had come up for debate.

In November 2017, New York state’s attorney general revealed that his office had been investigating fake comments for the past six months, but that the FCC had provided “no substantive response to our investigative requests.”

“My LATE husband’s name was fraudulently used after a valiant battle with cancer,” one person had complained to the attorney general’s office. “This is sickening,” said another, whose mother’s name had been used to post a comment several years after her death.

The day after the New York attorney general’s revelation, data scientist Jeff Kao published a remarkable finding. Using a technique known as “clustering,” Kao had found that 1.3 million comments were just iterations of the same template, generated by a computer but with certain words altered to make them seem like individual expressions of opinion. “President Obama’s order to take over Internet access is a exploitation of the open Internet” was a common, ungrammatical phrase. Kao, who now works at ProPublica, also estimated that 99.7% of the “organic” comments — those that didn’t appear to be duplicates or prewritten — favored maintaining the Obama policy of net neutrality.

But a few weeks later, on Dec. 14, Trump’s FCC voted to eliminate the rule — in a 3–2 decision that fell squarely along party lines. The broadband industry had won.

By now it was clear that the public comment process had been severely compromised. But one thing nobody yet knew: how it happened.

Bloomberg / Getty Images

Demonstrators during a net neutrality protest outside a Verizon Communications Inc. store in Boston, Massachusetts, U.S., on Dec. 7, 2017.


BuzzFeed News began digging into the FCC comments nearly two years ago, submitting a Freedom of Information Act request to the agency that sought “server logs” corresponding to some of the comments Kao had identified. The FCC denied that request and later denied BuzzFeed News’ appeal.

But a vital set of clues soon emerged. In anticipation of the intense interest in the 2017 net neutrality debate, the FCC had allowed people to upload comments in bulk using a Box.com account, which made it possible, in many cases, to trace who had submitted them.

BuzzFeed News requested and received details of the comments that had been bulk-uploaded through the FCC’s new system, which were first pried loose by freelance journalist Jason Prechtel.

BuzzFeed News ran large samples of the email addresses in those files through Have I Been Pwned, a website that identifies whether an address has been exposed in any of hundreds of major data breaches.

The results were stark: In one particular group of 1.9 million comments, according to BuzzFeed News’ analysis, 94% of the email addresses belonged to people who had fallen victim to a hack known as the Modern Business Solutions data breach, in which millions of people’s personal information, including full names, birthdates, home addresses, and email addresses, had been stolen. In 2016, a hacker had tweeted links to the breached data, which security researchers eventually traced back to an Austin-based data management company whose servers had been unguarded.

All these comments were uploaded by Cory, using his Media Bridge email address. (Some of the comments were full duplicates; after removing them, there were just over 1.5 million comment-and-email combinations.)

In its letter to BuzzFeed News, Media Bridge contested the idea that email addresses showing up in breached databases were a sign of improprieties. In fact, it said, a “high match rate” is a sign of validity, since most Americans appear in breached databases.

Of course, there are many sets of breached data floating around the internet. But no other major uploaders of bulk comments to the 2017 FCC docket had such a close overlap with Modern Business Solutions — or any other cache of breached data documented by Have I Been Pwned, for that matter. None of the other major uploaders’ comments overlapped with Modern Business Solutions by more than 50%. (For more details on BuzzFeed News’ analysis, click here.)

Upon closer inspection, BuzzFeed News determined that the group of comments Media Bridge had submitted included precisely the same algorithmically generated statements that Kao had discovered. (The rest of Media Bridge’s comments simply used one of a handful of prewritten statements.)

Even the names, in some cases, were red flags. Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley and Arizona Rep. Ruben Gallego — both Democrats — appeared to advocate against net neutrality, contrary to their party’s position. Merkley has previously said he didn’t write the comment attributed to him, and last year he called on the FCC to investigate its fake-comment problem.

In a statement, Gallego said he had not known about the comment in his name until BuzzFeed News told him about it. “This constitutes identity theft and should and can be punishable by law,” he said. He called on the FCC and the Department of Justice to “take steps to determine who is behind this and to prevent this from happening again.”

Rep. Greg Walden, an Oregon Republican, meanwhile, seemed to have weighed in from his Oregon home address rather than his House office, using an AOL email address rather than his official House account, despite the fact that as one of the most powerful legislators in the country he would have many more potent ways to make his views known. Walden never submitted that comment, a spokesperson told BuzzFeed News.

Fictional characters had also chimed in: Boba Fett and Luke Skywalker made their cases against net neutrality, although they claimed to live in Colleyville, Texas, and Marietta, Georgia.

In its response to BuzzFeed News, Media Bridge said its campaigns, “like all others, rely on data that is inputted by individuals; which invariably includes comments from ‘Star Wars’ characters, politicians, other characters and even deceased individuals.”

However, not only did the email addresses of Merkley, Gallego, Walden, Fett, and Skywalker all appear in the Modern Business Solutions breach, but the names and street addresses were exactly as they appeared in that breach, according to screenshots provided to BuzzFeed News by security researcher Bob Diachenko. A separate spot check by BuzzFeed News of 100 randomly selected Media Bridge comments revealed a similar pattern — even down to a street address that used underscores instead of spaces. A real person, such as Gallego, could certainly have their real information in a breached database and continue to use that real information as they moved around the internet, including submitting comments to federal agencies. But it seems impossible that so many people would have done so, including people such as “Luke Skywalker” supposedly living in a small town in Georgia.

In defending its submissions, Media Bridge pointed out that the full universe of net neutrality comments in 2017 included five from “Hillary Clinton” and 15 from “Barack Obama.” That’s true — but none of those comments used contact information that matches data in the Modern Business Solutions breach — except for the one “Barack Obama” comment submitted by Media Bridge.


After finding the eyebrow-raising patterns in the 2017 net neutrality comments, BuzzFeed News searched for other batches of suspicious-looking FCC comments.

Again, Media Bridge popped up.

When the FCC was considering a new rule that would allow cable consumers to use their own set-top boxes — regulation that the cable industry opposed — about 100,000 comments were posted, over the course of a few days, using language from American Commitment. Among them was another comment attributed posthumously to Annie Reeves.

One year later, 99.9% of those exact same names and addresses appeared on the FCC’s website, weighing in on an entirely different policy debate — net neutrality. They were uploaded by Media Bridge.

It seems impossible that this could have happened the way Media Bridge claimed it did. Media Bridge or LCX would presumably have had to reach all those people and convince them to sign on to the new issue. The odds of being able to reach 99.9% of 100,000 people one year later are minuscule. Even if it were possible, the odds of convincing them all to submit yet another comment, on a topic only tangentially related, seem virtually nil.

What’s more, those 100,000 comments also seemed to answer to a curious math question that had cropped up during BuzzFeed News’ analysis of the 2017 net neutrality comments. That analysis found that 94% of Media Bridge’s submissions had overlapped with the Modern Business Solutions breach. But what about the remaining 6% of submissions? BuzzFeed News has determined that almost all of them appear to have used commenters’ information recycled from 2016.

BuzzFeed News also examined the 2014 net neutrality docket, which included — in addition to yet another Annie Reeves comment, using American Commitment’s language — a strongly worded sentiment attributed to Minnesota’s then-governor, Mark Dayton. Through a spokesperson, Dayton told BuzzFeed News that he didn’t write or even know about the comment.

It was comments like these that allowed American Commitment to claim that it had “won” the original public consultation on net neutrality.

In response to BuzzFeed News’ questions, American Commitment founder Phil Kerpen said the group “is proud of its record of success and integrity in helping citizens engage in the public policy process. We’re not getting distracted by rehashed smear and innuendo campaigns.”


Efforts by Media Bridge and LCX have also aroused suspicion outside of Washington.

In February 2018, lawmakers in South Carolina were “flooded” with emails opposing legislative efforts that they said would endanger the multibillion-dollar sale of Scana Corporation to Dominion Energy.

South Carolina House Majority Leader Rep. Gary Simrill found something suspicious about the correspondence. Among the emails he received was one from his good friend, William Barron. Why would Barron — whom he speaks to often and had seen within the past week — send him a form letter? He decided to try responding to the email. But when Simrill clicked to reply, the email address that popped up was one he had never seen Barron use. Perplexed, Simrill phoned Barron.

Sean Rayford / AP

Republican Rep. Gary Simrill in the House chamber at the South Carolina State House in Columbia.

“Someone’s impersonating me,” Barron told local reporters. “It’s very discouraging, and it reeks of fraudulence.”

Simrill notified his Republican caucus colleagues. None could find a constituent who said they had really sent the correspondence, Simrill told BuzzFeed News.

The Consumer Energy Alliance — an industry group whose members include Dominion, as well as ExxonMobil, Chevron, and BP — had solicited the letters. Seeking to clear its name, the group called on the South Carolina attorney general to open an investigation into what had happened.

Simrill requested an inquiry as well.

In a recent interview in his Rock Hill office, Simrill reflected on the broader implications. “It poisoned the well,” he told BuzzFeed News. “Now when you get an email … you think, ‘Is this fake advocacy or someone who really needs something?’”

According to a source, CEA had hired Media Bridge for the letter-writing campaign, and the firm had enlisted LCX.

In response to BuzzFeed News’ questions about the campaign, CEA said it had “conducted an internal review of the data we had received from vendors and determined there were discrepancies in the submission information.”

The organization said it had decided to stop “engaging in this type of comment solicitation” until there are enough safeguards in place.

And then there was LCX’s work in Texas.

In early 2017, Texas lawmakers received a blizzard of more than 17,000 letters urging them to pass legislation that would subsidize homeschooling and private school tuition.

Allegations of foul play quickly emerged.

One of the formulaic letters addressed to Drew Springer, a Texas state representative, was allegedly signed by his predecessor, Rick Hardcastle — which would have been a bizarre mode of communication for two people who knew each other well. Hardcastle said the letter was fake.

“I’m not a voucher guy and everybody knows I’m not a voucher guy,” he told a reporter.

Jay Janner / AP

Former state representative Rick Hardcastle in the Texas State Capitol on April 1.

After that, Springer said he called dozens of people named in the letters he’d received; none recalled sending them. Soon, another legislator referred the matter to the Travis County District Attorney’s Office, which opened an investigation, only to close it a year and a half later without making public findings.

The campaign had been organized by Texans for Education Opportunity, a nonprofit seeking to promote “school choice” policies. Each of the lawmakers that had been targeted received more than 500 letters, according to data the organization provided to the Texas Tribune.

When the Tribune started asking questions about the data, Texans for Education Opportunity referred them to its advertising vendor, LCX Digital.

LCX defended its work, saying that the high volume of letters had been generated by digital ads inviting constituents to send messages to their representatives.

The nonprofit also defended the letters in a statement to the Tribune, calling them “credible and uniquely verifiable.”

But Stacy Hock, the chair of the board, later told BuzzFeed News that her group hadn’t even known LCX existed until the allegations surfaced. The organization hadn’t hired them; it had hired Mary Cheney’s political consulting firm, which in turn had hired LCX.

The former vice president’s daughter has helped run comment campaigns since at least early 2014, when her prior consulting firm ushered at least 98,000 comments into a State Department docket in support of the Keystone XL pipeline.

After the Texas letters came under scrutiny, she defended LCX, according to documents obtained by BuzzFeed News. Hilinski had been in the industry for decades, Cheney noted, and had worked with billion-dollar companies. Plus, she said, the anomalies the Tribune had found in the data didn’t prove fraud — any mass outreach campaign was inherently bound to include a few inaccuracies.

But a review by BuzzFeed News of the same data found striking abnormalities.

The most remarkable pattern concerned the timestamps in the data. If LCX’s data is to be believed, Texans were just as likely to sign the letter at 3 a.m. as at 3 p.m. — or any other hour of the day, for that matter. But that’s not how people normally behave online. A typical person’s internet activity peaks during the most common waking hours and crashes after that.

The IP addresses listed in the data also raise questions. All 11 people listed from Keene, Texas, for instance, purportedly approved their letter-signing through IP addresses on a specific address range owned by Major League Baseball Advanced Media, which is headquartered more than a thousand miles away in New York City.

Hock told BuzzFeed News that these findings are “alarming.” She said Cheney’s firm had “launched an internal review” and was “demanding answers from LCX.” And depending on what those answers were, she said, “we will determine our future course of action, up to and including legal action.”

In a statement, Cheney added that at the time of the allegations, her organization had done “spot checks” of the data and found “nothing out of the ordinary.” However, she said, a more recent analysis “has raised some abnormalities which we have demanded that LCX explain. We are awaiting their response.”

Neither organization said it had heard back from LCX.


It’s not the first time people who have worked with Hilinski have been left with serious questions about what he was up to.

Hilinski founded LCX in September 2007 over breakfast with three collaborators at a scenic diner on the pier in Newport Beach, California.

In its nonpolitical work, the firm has won deals to advertise for major corporations. Its current website includes a “gallery” featuring advertisements for big-name brands such as Mazda, Toyota, and Pampers.

Agata Nowicka for BuzzFeed News

Jeff Marder

But one of the cofounders left the company early on, and Hilinksi’s relationship with another eventually soured. In 2011 that partner, Jeff Marder, sued over his share of the profits. The case was settled before it went to trial — but not before Marder had given a deposition full of scorching allegations against his former partner.

The company, he said under oath, was “completely fraudulent.” The way LCX made money, according to Marder’s deposition, was by misusing personal information that it had purchased elsewhere, claiming falsely that people had offered up their own details while signing up for its clients’ deals or services.

“When did you first acquire the knowledge of the fraud?” LCX’s lawyer asked.

“From the very beginning,” Marder responded.

A few moments later, the lawyer asked: “And this enterprise that was engaged in this fraudulent activity derived 100 percent of its income from this fraudulent activity?”

“That’s correct.”

“It didn’t have any other business?”


In other arenas, Hilinski has made false claims about his own biography.

Hilinski has presented himself — on LCX’s website, on social media, and via press release — as having cofounded AltaVista, the famed search engine of the early internet. But there’s no trace online of Hilinski’s role. And Louis Monier, who is well-documented as being one of AltaVista’s actual cofounders, told BuzzFeed News that Hilinski “has never been involved.”

Then there was his claim in a 2016 tweet that he had “toured in Janes addiction many years ago.”

“We don’t recognize that name at all,” said Peter Katsis, who manages the band.

LCX’s website has also claimed Hilinski “holds an MBA from USC.” But a spokesperson for the University of Southern California said “There is no John Hilinski listed” in the degree records for the university’s Marshall School of Business.

Celeste Noche for BuzzFeed News

Sarah Reeves works on her tablet while her dog, Summer, keeps her company in her home in Eugene, Oregon, on Sept. 20.

Sitting in her living room that evening two years ago when she saw the comment in her mother’s name on the FCC’s website, Sarah Reeves logged on to Facebook and posted angrily in all caps: “WOW IT SURE IS GOOD MY DEAD MOTHER HAD SOMETHING TO SAY ABOUT NET NEUTRALITY ISN’T IT.”

She and her sister tried to figure out how to get their mother’s comment removed from the site, but the FCC doesn’t provide a way to do that. “I think that was one of the worst things for me,” she told BuzzFeed News.

She had also found a comment in her own name, which BuzzFeed News has identified as among Media Bridge’s uploads. Unlike her mother, Sarah Reeves did have opinions about net neutrality — she was strongly in favor of it. But this comment espoused exactly the opposite stance.

“By the end of the day, I was pretty defeated,” she said.

The repeated appropriation of her mother’s name still frustrates Sarah Reeves. “It’s too easy to post fraudulent comments,” she said. “It gave us this impression that it didn’t matter how we actually felt.” ●