Alex Sheshunoff
Alex Sheshunoff - 
Listen To The Story


KAI RYSSDAL: Accountants for presidential hopefuls from both parties have a busy weekend ahead of them -- Monday's the deadline for third-quarter campaign finance reports. We'll find out how much they've all collected, and who's been doing the giving.

Commentator Alex Sheshunoff has been curious about campaign finance. In particular, how much Americans think their votes are worth.

ALEX SHESHUNOFF: This election, the presidential candidates will spend close to $2 billion on their campaigns. But I won't see a dime of it. Most of it will go towards consultants and advertisers.

It's hard to imagine a less efficient market. It's about time we cut out the middlemen.

Underwhelmed after a recent presidential debate, I decided I'd give up my right to vote for not very much... say, a Walter Mondale collector plate. Curious how that compared to the rest of America, I commissioned a survey.

The Opinion Research Corporation bugged 1,006 people for me during dinner, and this is what we found out:

• 53 percent of Americans said their vote wasn't for sale, they wouldn't give it up for anything, not even a vaccine for cancer. Everyone else, however, had a price.

• 15 percent of America would give up their right to vote in exchange for free gas for a year.

• 10 percent would disenfranchise themselves to appear opposite Brad Pitt or Angelina Jolie in a movie. As Patrick Henry said: "Give me liberty or give me Branjelina."

• And one-eighth would prefer a $50 gift certificate for the Olive Garden to ever voting again. That seemed high, until I thought of the sweet, sweet goodness of the five-cheese ziti compared to a couple of New York politicians.

There were also some interesting patterns:

• Men and those under 35 are the most likely to sell their vote for everything from $25,000 cash to flying first class.

• And the wealthier you are, the less likely you are to sell your vote. Which I guess makes sense... I've yet to meet a billionaire who's bewitched by a bottomless salad or a basket of bread sticks.

So it turns out the candidates are getting a good deal. They'll spend about $16.50 for every vote cast in the final election -- a lot less than the going rate.

Just shows, when it comes to the dysfunctional market of retail politics, it's the consumer who gets short-changed.

RYSSDAL: Alex Sheshunoff is a writer in Anchorage, Alaska.

“I think the best compliment I can give is not to say how much your programs have taught me (a ton), but how much Marketplace has motivated me to go out and teach myself.” – Michael in Arlington, VA

As a nonprofit news organization, what matters to us is the same thing that matters to you: being a source for trustworthy, independent news that makes people smarter about business and the economy. So if Marketplace has helped you understand the economy better, make more informed financial decisions or just encouraged you to think differently, we’re asking you to give a little something back.

Become a Marketplace Investor today – in whatever amount is right for you – and keep public service journalism strong. We’re grateful for your support.