Sunday, November 18, 2007

How much is your vote worth to you?

If you are a citizen of the United States, what is your right to vote worth to you? If you are a citizen of another country, how might you value the right of an American citizen's vote (given influence the US has on foreign policy, for example)? Consider it seriously for a second, if you don't mind. Do you have some idea in mind of how much a vote in the next Presidential election is worth? How about a lifetime right to such voting power?

Does it surprise you that a poll conducted by students in a journalism class at NYU (New York University) found that the some of their peers on campus would trade their vote for an iPod?
Most say their vote has a price
Lily Quateman
Washington Square News


Two-thirds say they'll do it for a year's tuition. And for a few, even an iPod touch will do.

That's what NYU students said they'd take in exchange for their right to vote in the next presidential election, a recent survey by an NYU journalism class found.

Only 20 percent said they'd exchange their vote for an iPod touch. But 66 percent said they'd forfeit their vote for a free ride to NYU. And half said they'd give up the right to vote forever for $1 million.

But, they also overwhelmingly lauded the importance of voting. Ninety percent of the students who said they'd give up their vote for the money also said they consider voting "very important" or "somewhat important"; only 10 percent said it was "not important." Also, 70.5 percent said they believe that one vote can make a difference - including 70 percent of the students who said they'd give up their vote for free tuition.

The class - "Foundations of Journalism," taught by journalism department chairwoman Brooke Kroeger - polled more than 3,000 undergraduates between Oct. 24 and 26 to assess student attitudes toward voting.

"The part that I find amazing is that so many folks think one vote can make a difference," Dalton Conley, sociology department chairman, said. He added, "If we take them at their word, then perhaps they really think votes matter, and that's why someone might pay a year's tuition to buy theirs."

Sixty percent of the students who said they'd give up their vote for tuition also described their families' income as upper middle or high.

Their reasons for giving up their vote varied.

"At the moment, no candidate who truly represents my political beliefs has a chance of winning a presidential election," one male junior studying film and television at the Tisch School of the Arts wrote on the survey.

"It is very easy to convince myself that my vote is not essential," wrote a female CAS sophomore. "After all, I'm from New York, which will always be a Blue State."

Other students wrote that they were disgusted by the thought.

"I would be reversing history - a lot of people fought so that every citizen could be enfranchised," said a female in her second year at the Stern School of Business.

One CAS junior went even further, writing that "anyone who'd sell his lifelong right to vote should be deported."

{emphasis added}

Obviously one can question whether everyone who participated took the poll seriously, but the results are still interesting. Nor do I think I am ringing some kind of alarm bell here. Still, I find the results of this survey compelling. Assuming that those who would sell their vote or who feel their vote doesn't matter (oddly those don't strongly correlate) are serious or represent some significant portion of their age-education cohort (or even other socioeconomic/age demographics), what does this say about civics in the U.S.? About how things we don't approve of seem to "just happen"? About where civil rights in America will be in twenty, thirty, or forty years? And if you are alarmed or even just mildly concerned, what can/should be done to refute such de-valuing of the right to vote? Are systematic changes in order?

I have a hunch that there is some serious significance in the correlations cited in the bold passages...

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