Sunday, October 24, 2004

The Price Per Vote

I earlier blogged about some interesting maps of the sources of gifts to political campaigns. Part of my interest in political fundraising stems from my perplexity that so many people give anything to political candidates or parties. I don't puzzle over large gifts, which might well buy enough "access" (in the parlance of lobbyists) to repay the investment. But why do so many people give $250 to Bush or Kerry? That relatively paltry sum will neither sway the election nor buy a political favor. Why part with it, then?

I suppose that you might ask the same question about why people vote. A single vote will not elect a candidate or win friends in high places. People don't decide to vote on the basis of such crassly straightforward cost/benefit calculations (leastwise, they don't unless their calculations use wildly inaccurate numbers). Rather, they vote for more complicated reasons, such as affirming their membership in some group, fulfilling a civic duty, or (my personal reason) to make their arguments about political issues more persuasive.

Viewed that way, it turns out that small political donations might make sense. Indeed, numbers from the 2000 election suggest that even very small donations might prove more efficacious than voting. According to the Federal Election Commission, 105,405,100 people cast a vote for a presidential candidate in the 2000 election. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the top five presidential candidates raised a total of $375,263,914 to campaign in that election. The other, less popular candidates probably raised only trifling sums. Divide the second number by the first, therefore, and you'll get a fair approximation of how much was donated on behalf of each voter: $3.56.

Donating even as little as $5 to a political party or campaign would thus probably have a greater impact than casting a vote for the same. Granted, giving money does not achieve all the same aims of voting. If you vote mainly so that you can make more plausible arguments to others about how they should vote, for instance, you will find making political donations a poor substitute. Since that provides my main reason for voting, I don't plan to make any gifts to politicians. Besides, the way I figure it, I gave at the office.


Anonymous said...

It is clear that most people favor a massive redistribution of wealth--especially when it goes into their own pocket. How do I know this? Because so many fools play the lottery with false hopes of a huge payday. Would they not be better off donating their lottery money to third-party candidates that favor the prolitariat over the rich? I find it repulsive that millions of Mexican laborers and other poor slobs "invest" their small savings into a suction device like the California lottery instead of pooling their financial resources to elect politicians who will tax investment income and the rich in general. We should all hope that redistribution can be accomplished through the ballot box. (We can start, in a very small way, by voting Bush out of office.) If we do not change our government by voting then what is the alternative? Revolutions are can be so bloody and destructive and so many innocents are killed or injured. Tom, you especially should favor a peaceful outcome to the class warfare issue; if it comes to revolution, one of the battle crys will certainly be "kill all the lawyers."

Winning Ticket

Tom W. Bell said...

Um, I *did* say I would vote. I even gave my reasons for so doing. Are you saying I should also contribute money to political campaigns? I can think of an argument why I should, one along the same lines as my reason for voting. But I don't quite see your argument on that count (assuming you claim I should so do).

Anonymous said...

looks like trumpit needs a muzzle

Anonymous said...

Muzzle Bush!

Amy Phillips said...

This question isn't unique to voting or to donating to political campaigns. Every year, I donate a few hundred dollars to charity. I have several charities that I like to support, and I tend to give less than $50 to each of them so that I can support all of them. You could argue that my $20 or $30 is neither making a difference in their ability to continue operating programs I like, nor giving me a voice in what activities they will undertake in the future. You'd be right. But there's a Kantian sort of "what if everyone felt that way?" at work here. My $20 to the Cato Institute or my private high school or my local animal shelter doesn't, strictly speaking, make a difference, just as that same $20 to my preferred political candidate wouldn't. But I know I'm not the only one donating $20, and it adds up so that if enough of us give $20, it might make a difference in whether my favorite charity remains operational, or whether my candidate gets elected. You're right, it's not rationally in my best interests, and likely nothing bad would happen if I stopped donating. But the same is true of littering or stealing packs of gum from the grocery store or whatever. My actions don't matter, but our collective actions do, and I like being on the side of right in these matters.