How Much Are Romney and Obama Spending on Your Vote?

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Nov. 5 2012 4:52 PM

How Much Is Your Vote Worth?

A calculator that determines how much money Obama and Romney are spending on your vote.

People wait in line for early voting in the parking lot of the Northland Park Center on November 4, 2012 in Columbus, Ohio.
Voters in New Jersey

Photo by Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images.

We know the Romney and Obama campaigns are pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into television and online advertising in a bid to capture precious votes in Tuesday’s election. Every vote counts, of course—but some count more than others. And some, it seems, are more easily bought. Both factors play a role in how much money the campaigns are willing to spend to win over any given individual, according to research by Abine, an online privacy company.

Will Oremus Will Oremus

Will Oremus is Slate's senior technology writer.

How much are the candidates spending on your vote in particular? Abine has come up with a quick quiz that will give you an educated estimate. (NOTE: This story does not represent a Slate endorsement of Abine, a private company, or its products. We just liked the quiz and wanted to share it with you.)

To arrive at the figures, the company started by simply averaging the campaigns’ total ad spending—including that of super PACs—across the total number of voters. It came up with an average of $22 per vote. Then it weighted the votes based on targeting data to which the campaigns have access via a combination of online tracking tools and offline records. Which state you live in matters a lot, of course. But while TV ad spending depends heavily on the overall demographics of a given media market, online advertising campaigns can take into account much more specific, personal information. For instance, your voting history, available via public records, indicates whether your vote is likely to be up for grabs this election. (Data brokers have begun to offer services that tie this type of offline information to your online identity, for a price, says Abine’s Sarah Downey. Campaigns may have access to it if you’ve set up an account on their websites or “liked” their Facebook pages.) And even if you don’t live in a swing state, you could still be valuable to the campaigns if you have a lot of politically active Facebook friends with whom you might share your political sentiments and voting plans.

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On the other hand, if you don’t spend much time online or if you block tracking cookies on your computer, the campaigns might not be able to ascertain that information. That makes them less likely to target you with ads, so they are spending less to win your vote.

To determine how each of these factors influences spending, Abine looked at actual going rates for online political ads targeting various demographics, co-founder and vice president Rob Shavell told me. Once the company had its estimates, it ran them by Washington, D.C., political ad firms and lobbyists to “sanity check” its conclusions, he added.

Abine is using this quiz to help promote its online privacy tools, which aim to prevent websites from tracking your activity as you browse the Web. But it’s worth noting that blocking these tracking efforts won’t spare you from online advertising altogether. It will just make it less likely that the ads you see will be aimed at you specifically.

I’m a New York resident who spends a lot of time online, has plenty of politically active Facebook friends, and eschews online privacy tools, so Abine estimates the candidates are spending $25 to win me over. If I still lived in Ohio where I grew up, that figure would jump to $38. Feel free to share your own results and relevant information in the comments below, if you’re the transparent type.

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