President Obama and Mitt Romney will raise $1 billion each this election. They will spend almost all of it. It is impossible not to wonder, when contemplating $2 billion blown on ads that blare at empty rooms while people get snacks from the kitchen, why didn't the campaigns just buy us all presents instead. The Atlantic Wire has been thinking about this a lot because this Wire writer loves presents. So, allow us to demonstrate what we could have gotten out of this election deal if we'd all pledged to vote for whoever months ago in exchange for gifts.
The population of America is about 311,591,917. That $2 billion doesn't go very far if we all get gifts -- we'd only get about $6.42 each. But everyone loves presents, even if they're small. Obama and Romney could have competed for America's votes by giving us all the accessories needed for a fall hike, such as these patriotic USA socks ($3.50 from Amazon.com), plus some Ocean Potion sunscreen ($1.99 from drugstore.com), and some off-brand chapstick (99 cents). A few cents would be left over to put in those machines that stamp things on pennies.
But of course, all Americans do not count in an election year. The only Americans whose votes really count live in nine states whose populations are almost evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats. In those swing states -- Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia, Wisconsin -- there are approximately 66,287,866 people. That means they each would get $30.17 of the $2 billion. The presidential candidates could treat them to a fun 90s nostalgia night in, with a Reality Bites DVD ($6.37), a Lisa Loeb CD ($7.79), a smiley face t-shirt ($12.99), and a "whatever" key chain ($2.99).
But let's be real: even in the swing states, there are a lot of babies and kids, who are useful for kissing on and fighting for on the campaign trail, but utterly worthless on Election Day. The voting-age population is approximately 50,540,000 across the nine key state and not all of them vote. In 2008, the average turnout rate was 57.1 percent. So if about that many turn out this time, then we're talking about 28,858,340 swing staters. If Obama and Romney just stuck to buying actual voters presents, their campaigns could spend $69.30 to each swing state voter. That's enough money for a pretty nice gift! For the young undecided ladies, they could team up to buy an impractical frilly top from Anthropologie. Or the campaigns could get lucky swing state residents a home brew beer kit with auto siphon ($60.33), plus a novelty "Beer Zone" sign ($8.99). Or, to be really festive, to really bring the country together after this divisive campaign, the campaigns could throw every single swing state voter a pizza party with six one-topping large pizzas from Pizza Hut.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.