The Cost of a Vote — More Numbers on the Midterms

In a remarkably silent tone, a NYTimes Editorial provides some more numbers and historical context to the question of election advertisement. First to the numbers:

In the midterm elections four years ago, candidates and their friends spent a little over $2.8 billion, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, to garner some 86 million votes. The cost was about $33 per voter. Data from this week’s election is still coming in. But it seems that total spending will hit $4 billion, which would make this year’s voters about $10 more expensive.

That is an increase of about 30%. This is as much a general trend as it is a jump due to a Supreme Court ruling relaxing the limitations on „independent“ spending.

Here’s the hard-to-believe history of more direct money-for-vote transactions in the American past (and not even very remote past):

But as we contemplate this rush of money, which shows signs only of increasing, it is worth pausing to remember an era not too long ago when modern ethical niceties did not stand in the way of the purchase of power. In 19th-century New York, newspapers quoted the price of votes. In 1880, The Elizabethtown Post quoted a vote in Ulster County at $25. In 1885, The Elmira Daily Advertiser quoted votes from $10 to $27.

“When a good man for a good purpose buys the vote of a fellow man, the voter — being a principal and a sovereign — is free to do as he chooses; the act is right,” thundered the minister Thomas K. Beecher in The Watkins Express in Schuyler County, N.Y., on Nov. 13, 1879. The practice died only when the secret ballot introduced in 1890 made it possible for voters to deceive their paymasters. So political parties took to paying sympathizers of the opposition to stay home instead.

This latter practice still seems to be in high esteem, if more indirectly, with a substantial number of the „independent“ advertisements being attack ads against a candidate. And a negative maximum has been reached with an ad series by „Latinos for Reform“, a conservative interest group that urged latino voters to stay home (the video is on youtube, and the NYTimes has some background coverage).

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Datum: Sonntag, 7. November 2010 14:38
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