Gender gap among voters narrows, changes outcomes

Updated - May 24, 2014 09:16 pm IST

Published - May 24, 2014 09:04 pm IST - NEW DELHI:

The rising tide of female voters in 2014 might have had a concrete impact on the outcome of these elections, data shows.

Despite the Election Commission’s efforts to get more women registered to vote, the number of female electors (those registered to vote) grew much slower than the number of male electors, between 2009 and 2014, The Hindu found. Men registered to vote outnumber women by over 40 million, giving the electorate a sex ratio of 908 female electors for every 1,000 male electors. This is even more adverse than the sex ratio of the general population, which stood at 943 in the 2011 Census.

Yet female turnouts (the number of women who actually voted, as a proportion of all those registered) have grown much faster than for men; the female turnout grew by nearly ten percentage points between the last election and this election, The Hindu found, while male turnout grew by less than seven percentage points. As a result, male voters outnumber female voters by just 32 million, and the gender gap in voting is the closest it has ever been. ( The Hindu used ECI data for past elections and data compiled by Srinivas Ramani and Pratap Vardhan of Datameet for 2014.)

“The rise in female voter turnout is self-empowerment, because it is not an outcome of a specific policy intervention. This phenomenon has been observed since 1960s, but has seen a significant growth since 1990s,” Shamika Ravi, Fellow at the Brookings Institution, India Center, who has studied female voter turnouts, told The Hindu .

Did this rising tide of female voters have an impact on the outcome? Women were no more likely to win from the 100 constituencies where female voters outnumbered male voters in 2014, than they were from the 443 other constituencies, The Hindu found. They were also exactly as likely to win from the 160 seats where the female turnout exceeded the male turnout as they were to win from constituencies where the reverse was true.

However research shows that men and women do vote differently. Mudit Kapoor of the Indian School of Business, Hyderabad, and Prof. Ravi found after looking at two assembly elections in quick succession in 2005 that constituencies that saw a rise in female turnout between the two elections were more likely to vote out the incumbent, they found. "Nitish was essentially brought in by women," Prof. Ravi said. More generally, women tend to vote for publicly provisioned goods like water and for safety, while men tend to vote for goods related to their avenues of productivity like access to credit and irrigation, she added.

For the 2014 General Election, women displayed a marked preference for parties led by women for the first time. “Our post-poll survey data from has shown that for the first time, parties led by women – the BSP in Uttar Pradesh, the AIADMK in Tamil Nadu and the Trinamool Congress in West Bengal - witnessed a 5-6 percentage point higher preference among women than among men,” Sanjay Kumar, director of the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, said. Among the two main national parties, the BJP experienced a slight disadvantage among female voters, with 29% at the national level saying that they voted for the BJP, as against 31% for the country as a whole while for the Congress, the voteshare was the same across the sexes.

Both Tamil Nadu and West Bengal saw a huge surge in female voters between 2009 and 2014, The Hindu found, but it is unclear whether this was either cause or effect of female leadership, or simply correlated.

In general, "backward" states in the north tend to produce more women candidates than those in the south, even though women are more likely to win in the progressive southern states, Profs Ravi and Kapoor found after looking at 50 years of electoral data. "When women are at a disadvantage in the population as a whole and in the electorate, standing for election becomes an important way for women to achieve their desired policy outcomes," Prof. Ravi said. 

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