how much is my vote worth to Obama and Romney?

I live in Virginia, a hotly contested swing state. I don’t watch much TV, but when I do, there are back-to-back election commercials. I usually find 3 robo-call messages on my answering machine when I return home from work. My vote is valuable — and I know it.

As an undecided voter, I wondered how much Obama and Romney paid for my vote. Here’s the formula I used:

Amount spent on my vote = [Amount spend in RVA] / [Number of undecided voters in RVA].

Here RVA = Richmond, VA. The idea here is that the ads are not aired for the benefit of those who have already decided–they are for my “benefit.” To estimate both the numerator and the denominator, I use the following two formulas. The first assumes that advertising money is spent proportionally to the voting age population in different regions in Virginia.

Amount spend in RVA = [Amount spend in Virginia] * [Potential RVA voters] / [Potential VA voters].


Number of undecided voters in RVA = [Potential RVA voters]*[Fraction who will vote] * [Fraction of undecided voters].

Here are the parameters I used:

First, I looked at how much they spent on advertising in Virginia: $96M [link].

Now, I look at the total number of the voting age population in Virginia: 6,242,000 [link]

Fraction of these voters in Richmond: 940,000 [link]

Proportion of voting age population who will vote: 60-67% [link]

The proportion of undecided voters in Virginia: 4.7% (as of 10/10) to 9.2% (on 8/1) [link]

When I put this all together, I find that my vote is worth $250 – $545.

The $250 figure assumes that the voter turnout is historically high (67% from the 2008 election) and that there are many undecided voters (they peaked at 9.2% on 8/1, about the time when the campaign ads started in full force). The $545 figure assumes a more reasonable voter turnout (60% from the 2004 election) and that there are fewer undecided voters (there are currently 4.7% undecideds). A more realistic scenario would be to include the 60% voter turnout with 6.0% undecided voters (the value before the conventions), yielding $427 for my vote. I’d rather pocket the cash.

11/5 UPDATE: $131M was spent on ads in Virginia, which means that $582 was spent for my vote with a range of $340-$744. This only counts ads, which means that this grossly underestimates how much was spent on me. If I scale this by the ration of the total amount spent ($1.6B) to the total amount spent on ads ($733M), then $1272 was spent on my vote with a range of $743 – $1624. This seems like too much. After the election excitement dies down, I’m ready to discuss campaign reform.

2 responses to “how much is my vote worth to Obama and Romney?

  • prubin73

    I have to question your basic premise (ads are for the undecided). I think they are also aimed at the faithful, with the idea of stimulating voter turnout.

  • Laura McLay

    Paul (@Prubin73), that is an excellent point. Taking that into account would make my vote less valuable, so I’ll offer a defense of my assumption. We are all so saturated with the news coverage of the election (newspapers, cable news, Internet news sites, etc.), that loyal party members do not need the commercials to understand that their vote is needed. Along the same lines, if the talking heads on cable news discussed the best laundry detergent every night, I probably wouldn’t need commercials to remind me how good Tide is.

    But really, I have no idea. Someone with actual expertise on political market could answer this question.

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