January 17, 2013 9:56AM

Dollars Per Vote in the Presidential Election

There’s been a lot of talk about the high cost of the 2012 election, with both major candidates spending more than a billion of dollars once affiliated groups are included. Some people find that too much. Others point out that Americans spend that much every year on potato chips, and surely deciding who will lead the United States government is at least that important.

And of course the bigger amounts are government spending. When politicians vote to give money to students, the elderly, farmers, automobile companies, defense contractors, and other voting blocs, political considerations are certainly part of the decision‐​making process. When Republicans vote for $60 billion in “Hurricane Sandy recovery aid,” including money for Alaskan fisheries and activist groups, aren’t they buying votes? 

But for the moment, let’s take a look at how much the candidates did spend, and how much they got for it. I’ve added Libertarian nominee Gary Johnson to the usual Obama‐​Romney comparison to get some perspective.

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The vote totals are from Wikipedia. Spending figures for the Democratic and Republican candidates and for Johnson are from OpenSe​crets​.org. 

So the first thing we notice is that Obama and Romney spent respectively $10 and $7 per vote, while Johnson spent less than $2. But party and outside groups roughly doubled spending for the major candidates. More money was spent on behalf of Romney, but presumably money spent by groups other than the official campaign is less efficient, so that their total expenditures were effectively similar. And we can only wonder how much of “the libertarian vote” a Libertarian Party candidate might pick up if he had enough money to be heard.