Is it Smarter to Sell Your Vote or to Cast it?

Half of N.Y.U. students say they would sell their right to vote for $1 million, according to a poll published yesterday by the Washington Square News.

Sixty-six percent said they would trade their voting rights for a free four-year ride at N.Y.U. (roughly $160,000, including room and board). Twenty percent would give up the vote for an iPod Touch (value: $299).

We know that voting doesn’t make good economic sense. Dubner and Levitt have written about the utility — or is it futility? — of voting here, here and here. But is it smarter to sell your vote than to cast it?

George W. Bush spent $345 million to win re-election in 2004, according to opensecrets.org, a cost of around $5.56 a vote. John Kerry spent just over $5.24 per vote. Those numbers don’t include third party spending, but for the sake of a hypothetical let’s just say votes in a presidential election cost $5.50 apiece. It should follow that selling your one vote for $1 million could buy you enough influence to capture 181,818 more. So maybe this poll doesn’t demonstrate youth apathy, it demonstrates youth economic savvy. (Then again, if you’re a fringe candidate, it’s possible to spend vast sums in politics without having any impact whatsoever.)

But how about you? Would you sell your vote for $1 million, or an iPod Touch, or free college tuition? And what would democracy look like if you could?

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  1. Kyle says:

    I have a vote and don’t know what to do with it. I don’t have an ipod, but I know what to do with it. An easy decision for me.

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  2. Kyle says:

    I have a vote and don’t know what to do with it. I don’t have an ipod, but I know what to do with it. An easy decision for me.

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  3. bjefreak says:

    >> Would you sell your vote for $1 million
    Yes

    >> or an iPod Touch
    Yes

    >> or free college tuition?
    Yes

    as you’ve shown before, my one vote doesn’t make good economic sense, so why not trade it for something that does!…

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  4. bjefreak says:

    >> Would you sell your vote for $1 million
    Yes

    >> or an iPod Touch
    Yes

    >> or free college tuition?
    Yes

    as you’ve shown before, my one vote doesn’t make good economic sense, so why not trade it for something that does!…

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  5. coolrepublica says:

    It is smarter to cast a vote, of course. But an even smarter move would be to pass a law barring NYU graduates from ever going to the poll and voting. It would be the most cost effective way of safeguarding our democracy.

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  6. coolrepublica says:

    It is smarter to cast a vote, of course. But an even smarter move would be to pass a law barring NYU graduates from ever going to the poll and voting. It would be the most cost effective way of safeguarding our democracy.

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  7. MM says:

    This response by the NYU students is not as shocking as it seems. The yes-respondents assumed they did not lose their right to vote forever, and they assumed that all other people in America would still have the right to vote. If the question had been would you give up your right to vote and democracy forever for the cost of the 4-year tuition, the overwhelming response would have been no.

    Voting may not make economic sense but if everyone lost the right to do it, then it certainly would.

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  8. MM says:

    This response by the NYU students is not as shocking as it seems. The yes-respondents assumed they did not lose their right to vote forever, and they assumed that all other people in America would still have the right to vote. If the question had been would you give up your right to vote and democracy forever for the cost of the 4-year tuition, the overwhelming response would have been no.

    Voting may not make economic sense but if everyone lost the right to do it, then it certainly would.

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