EGAN: Voting values

There is a lot of debate on the value of our presidential votes. Among slightly disillusioned college students, the general consensus seems to be that they are not worth enough. Value in this sense is somewhat abstract, but in a society where markets drive politics, you need not wonder about the value of your vote — you can calculate it.

According to Abine, an Internet security company, mine was worth $27. The voting scale runs between $20 and $50, so apparently I’m kind of cheap.

Campaigns this year combined both real-time online tracking and offline data records to identify the most “influenceable” voters and then spent about 30 percent more on ads that targeted them.

Vote value is based on various factors such as the state you live in, voting history, campaign donations, gender, how many Facebook friends you have and the amount of news you read online. While it is obvious why campaigns would want this information,the vulnerability of it to manipulation makes me uneasy.

Americans pride themselves on equality — whether this is truth in practicality or not is another issue — but the sentiment is there. However, it is not outwardly apparent whether or not we are all equally informed by the time we go to stand in the poll lines. Certainly, as my $27 vote implies, some of us are more subject to the misinformation propagated by both parties than are others.

Placing a monetary value on a vote, which campaigns do, comes dangerously close to an economization of non-market values. For as long as I’ve been consciously aware of them, election years have always drawn attention to a market presence where it should not belong. While we debate the merits of our political alignments, we often forget to ask what roles markets should be playing in society and if our political values should be subject to those markets.

My own opinion is that markets are not as benign as we’d like to think and can prove detrimental to the product for sale. For example, we might ask, if a vote is bought, does it change the nature and the societal value of that vote?

With elections, it is difficult to deconstruct what constitutes buying a vote. The confusion for me happens somewhere between a blurred distinction of campaigners as educators or as salesmen.

There is a degree of uncertainty when electing a president, wherein we cannot always anticipate the outcomes of our decisions. This is the human factor, and it is a risk inherent in the process.

When we cannot attach probability to outcome we may instead rely on trust. It is therefore the campaigns’ job to gain our trust, and this is why Facebook friends are calculated into the value of your vote. In situations of uncertainty, we may rely on social networks and traditional norms (like who your parents vote for) to inform our decisions.

Although these are natural avenues through which we can reduce uncertainty, we must remember that this is an election we are referring to — it isn’t the same as always going to your mother’s hairdresser or buying that brand of lipstick your roommate swears by.

If you are a female living in a swing state with more than 100 Facebook friends who will likely vote, your vote is worth $50. This means you were subjected to a lot of political propaganda from both parties in the form of Internet-based advertising.

Though I’m sure a lot of us would swear we were not affected by campaign efforts, such an assertion is statistically unlikely. So, if you fit the $50 vote demographic there was likely some individual consequence of all this campaigning. If there was an individual consequence for enough people there was likely a societal consequence as well.

Does this devalue democracy? Is a presidency bought worth the same as a presidency won? Although I am very happy with the results of this election, looking back on the past year I wish that political discourse was different. I wish that political advertisements were informative instead of slanderous.

I would like to see an election year where candidates are not allowed to concentrate their efforts on a small percentage of the population but have to spend funding equally across states. I wish for a more informed citizenship. What our presidents do in office is monumentally important, but the process by which they get there is what defines us as a democratic society, and we need to guard that better than we have in the past.

 

Arielle Egan is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences and a Fall 2012 columnist for The Daily Free Press. She can be reached at aegan@bu.edu.

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