Would You Sell Your Vote?

Jordan Gans-Morse, Simeon Nichter*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Prominent scholars in recent years have expressed alarm about political polarization, weakened civil liberties, and growing support for authoritarianism in the United States. But discussions of democratic backsliding pay short shrift to the value citizens place on one of the most fundamental democratic institutions: the act of voting. Drawing on nationally representative survey data, we show that despite traditional portrayals of the U.S. as the embodiment of a democratic “civic culture,” a substantial share of Americans express readiness to sell their votes for cash: 12% of respondents would do so for just $25, as would nearly 20% for $100. Citizens who place low importance on living in a democracy are significantly more willing to sell their votes. We argue that heightened attention to US voters’ attitudes toward clientelism would provide an additional barometer of democratic skepticism, help to integrate the study of American and comparative politics, and stimulate novel research agendas about the historic decline of vote buying in the United States.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)452-463
Number of pages12
JournalAmerican Politics Research
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 2021


  • clientelism
  • democracy
  • elections
  • machine politics
  • vote buying

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science


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