Search the Site

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, 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?