VIEWPOINT

In 2014, the voter turnout increased considerably across the board, and the most significant increase was witnessed in large cities. 

With the Election Commission announcing the final schedule for the 2019 elections, politicians are exhorting the Indian voters to show up at the polling booths on the election day to exercise their vote. Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted, “A high turnout augurs well for our democratic fabric.” 

India is known for a fairly high election turnout, but who turns out to vote in India, and why? In our last article, we discussed how constituency size, organisational networks, and social pressures may play a role in influencing voter turnout.

Two other factors are commonly cited as having an impact on turnout: literacy and urbanisation. Our findings suggest that the impact of overall education levels and urbanisation on voter turnout in India may be more nuanced than what political observers have traditionally believed.

Literacy and turnout

What is the association between literacy and turnout in India? Survey data from the 2014 National Election Study conducted by Lokniti suggests that among the literate, the turnout among the college educated is lower than the turnout among the less educated.

However, there is virtually no difference in the turnout levels between the illiterate and the literate. Since the college-educated are less than 5 per cent of India’s population, lower levels of turnout among degree holders does not have much of an overall impact on the number of Indians who vote in every election.

Survey data does not take into account the milieu in which a respondent resides. In other words, it is not only the education of an individual, but the overall education level of an entire area that can influence who votes.

Research on turnout has shown that if my neighbour turns out to vote, I will as well (Green and Gerber. 2005. Get Out the Vote: How to Increase Voter Turnout. Brookings Institution Press). In areas where most people have an education, citizens may share a sense of responsibility towards their civic duties, including their duty to vote and the important role their votes play in the democratic process.

On the other hand, we may also expect a higher turnout in areas where few people are educated. The less educated are likely to be poorer and are hence more dependent on the state for their economic well-being. They are more incentivised to vote because their vote choice could make a greater impact on their lives.

What data shows

What pattern do we find in the data? For this analysis, we looked at polling-booth level data culled from the Form 20 issued for each polling booth by the Election Commission of India and matched with the census data for the same location[1]. This allowed us to look at turnout in areas with very different literacy levels.

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Pradeep Chhibber is with the University of California, Berkeley. Francesca Jensenius teaches at the University of Oslo. Harsh Shah, an alumnus of the University of California, Berkeley, is a political analyst and works in the private sector.

Pradeep Chhibber is with the University of California, Berkeley. Francesca Jensenius teaches at the University of Oslo. Harsh Shah, an alumnus of the University of California, Berkeley, is a political analyst and works in the private sector.

This is part of a series of articles in ThePrint that will provide readers with comprehensive, research-based information about the Indian elections since 1962. The articles will also draw upon recent findings from Constructing a Majority: A micro-level study of voting patterns in Indian elections (forthcoming Cambridge University Press) by Francesca Jensenius, Pradeep Chhibber, and Sanjeer Alam. Read the first article here 

Article first published in The Print

 

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