How Much is Your Vote Worth?

Last month an NYU School of Journalism class asked 3000 NYU undergraduates what it would take for them to forfeit their right to vote in the 2008 presidential election. Here were the results:

•20% would give up their right to vote in the 2008 presidential election for a new ipod.
•66% would give up their right to vote in the 2008 presidential election for a full ride to NYU.
•50% would give up their right to vote forever for $1 million dollars.
•70.5% believe that one vote CAN make a difference.

My colleague Cathay Snyder decided to conduct a similar survey with 89 students in our U.S. History survey class at Messiah College. Here are the results:

•25% would give up their right to vote in the 2008 presidential election for a new ipod.
•88% would give up their right to vote in the 2008 presidential election for a full ride to Messiah College.
•53% would give up their right to vote forever for $1 million dollars
•71% believe that one vote CAN make a difference.

The Messiah results are generally the same as the NYU results, but it is clear that more Messiah College students would give up the right to vote for a college education than students at NYU. Perhaps Messiah College students place more value on their college education than students at NYU. (I might also add that the NYU tuition and room and board is roughly $17,000 more expensive than Messiah). Or perhaps Messiah students are less civic-minded than NYU students.

It is also interesting that about 70% of students at both institutions think that their vote can make a difference. Yet, despite this conviction, many are willing to give up this opportunity to “make a difference” for an i-pod, college tuition, or a million dollars.

Do these rather unscientific polls (especially our Messiah survey) tell us anything about American democracy?

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