While an increased turnout in Assembly elections is not an indicator of the same in Lok Sabha elections, aggressive campaigning points toward a higher turnout in this poll

If the pattern of turnout in the Assembly elections held over the last couple of years are of any indication, the turnout in the ongoing Lok Sabha elections should significantly increase. Almost all the Assembly elections held in different States between 2012-13 witnessed a higher turnout compared to those held in previous years. In Goa, Gujarat, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh, voter turnout increased by more than 10 per cent, while in Bihar, Karnataka, Manipur and Tamil Nadu, it increased by about 7-8 per cent. With voters more enthusiastic, and with political parties engaging in aggressive campaigning and mobilisation, there is little doubt that this Lok Sabha election would see a higher turnout.

But there is a catch. One must not forget that an increased turnout in the Assembly elections, which has always been higher, is not a guarantee for an increased turnout in the Lok Sabha elections. While all the five Lok Sabha elections held between 1996 and 2009 witnessed a turnout of 58-60 per cent (with the average turnout being 59.2 per cent), the 86 Assembly elections held in different States during the same period witnessed a 69.5 per cent turnout — smaller States like Sikkim, Manipur, Mizoram, Himachal Pradesh and Goa registered a much higher turnout compared to Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh. The average turnout in Assembly elections has been nearly 10 percentage points higher than the average turnout in Lok Sabha elections in the same period.

Factors for a higher turnout

The chances of a higher turnout in the 2014 elections would largely depend on the turnout among urban voters, women and young voters. Urban voters have always voted in lesser numbers compared to rural voters or voters living in semi-urban constituencies. During the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, in the 57 urban constituencies the turnout was 51.5 per cent, while in 144 semi-urban constituencies it was 61.2 per cent. This is nearly three per centage points higher compared to the national average turnout. In 342 rural constituencies, the turnout was 58.2 per cent — on a par with the national turnout. With growing urbanisation, the challenge for political parties to mobilise urban voters is much more in 2014 than it was in 2009.

The increased turnout in the recently-held Assembly elections was also due to a much higher participation from women voters. In the Lok Sabha elections as well as in the Assembly elections, the participation of women has been less than that of men. The gap between the turnout of men and women was much higher in the 1950s and 60s, but has narrowed down substantially in recent elections. However, participatory trends among women voters seem to have changed in recent years.

Not only are women participating more but have even outnumbered men in various States. During the 2010 Assembly elections in Bihar, 3.4 per cent more women participated than men. Uttarakhand witnessed a similar trend in 2012. In the 2012 Assembly elections in Goa, the turnout of women was 6 per centage points higher compared to men, while in Himachal Pradesh it was 7 per centage points higher. In many other States like Karnataka, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Punjab, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Tripura, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal, which have also witnessed a lower turnout of women in past elections, women outnumbered men in recently-held Assembly elections. The turnout of women is crucial for an increased turnout in the ongoing elections.

There is lot of talk about young voters (aged 18-25). The past few Lok Sabha elections have witnessed a 4-5 per cent lower turnout of young voters compared to the average turnout. Contrary to the expectations of many, even the recently-held Assembly elections in Delhi, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh witnessed a lower turnout of young voters. While the youth supported the Aam Aadmi Party and even voted for it in Delhi, their electoral participation remains low. But there are a sizeable number of young voters in this election and they are more or less equally spread across constituencies. Their participation would play an important role in increasing the turnout.

Socio-economic order

Post-Mandal, electoral politics in India has witnessed more participation of voters from the lower social and economic order. Findings from the surveys conducted by the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) indicate that Dalits, Adivasis and Muslims now vote on a par with voters from the upper castes, which was not the case during elections held in the 1980s. Electoral participation in the 1970s and 1980s was dominated by privileged sections of voters — namely those belonging to the upper caste and the upper and middle class.

The rise of various regional parties having a strong support base among particular castes and their use of strong strategies for mobilising people has resulted in bringing about this change. Regional parties are still very strong — the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam in Tamil Nadu, the All India Trinamool Congress in West Bengal, the Biju Janata Dal in Odisha, and the Telangana Rashtra Samithi, the Telugu Desam Party and the YSR Congress in Andhra Pradesh to name a few. There remains little doubt that these parties would leave no stone unturned to mobilise voters, especially from the lower strata, which would ensure sizeable electoral participation from these group of voters in these elections.

(Sanjay Kumar is Director of CSDS, Delhi.)

RELATED NEWS

Who is behind the rise in voter turnouts?December 3, 2013

Yes to the no-vote optionSeptember 28, 2013

Moneybags and vote banksJanuary 9, 2014

India in election modeMarch 6, 2014

More In: Comment | Opinion