Is unemployment a major factor in shaping the vote choice of the youth?

In the debate over who bears responsibility in employment generation, the narrative swings like a pendulum between governmental bodies and individual citizens

March 27, 2024 08:30 am | Updated 08:30 am IST

For representative purposes.

For representative purposes. | Photo Credit: AFP

For the upcoming Lok Sabha elections of 2024, Narendra Modi and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have strategically crafted their narrative around four key pillars: the poor, the youth, women, and farmers, referring to them as the ‘chaar jatiyan‘ (four castes). This rhetoric is a departure from traditional caste politics in India, emphasising development and inclusivity under the pledge for a Viksit Bharat (Developed India). Among these, youth emerge as a critical focus. Prime Minister Modi’s call to action in his 110th ‘Mann ki Baat’, urging first-time voters to participate through the ‘Mera Pehla Vote – Desh Ke Liye’ campaign, underscores the importance of the youth’s engagement in the democratic process.

However, amidst these promises, a pertinent question arises: Does the BJP agenda truly resonate with the concerns of the youth, particularly regarding employment? Using data sourced from the Lokniti-CSDS survey, we attempt to unravel the pulse of the young electorate from Delhi. Conducted in the first week of March 2024, the survey involves interviews with 611 students in Delhi.

Existing employment realities

Existing realities reflect the struggles and aspirations of Indian youth to secure employment within a constrained job market. The youth themselves are aware of the limited employment opportunities in recent times. Data indicates that an overwhelming majority of youth in Delhi believe that it has become somewhat difficult (55%) or very difficult (25%) to secure employment in the last two years (Table 1).

Despite claims of economic growth, the issue of job creation continues to be the biggest challenge. This uncertainty significantly impacts the opinion of the youth on their future job prospects. A considerable proportion of students express uncertainty about their employment prospects, particularly concerning their educational qualifications. While approximately a quarter (24%) express confidence in securing employment, a significant portion remains uncertain (Table 2).

The youth aspire to secure stable jobs with security, exhibiting a prevalent preference for government jobs — with three in five (63%) aspiring for a government job.

The BJP initiated a narrative of transforming youth from job seekers to job creators within its vision for economic development. This idea promotes entrepreneurship, innovation, and self-reliance among the youth, aiming to shift their orientation from seeking employment to creating opportunities, not only for themselves but also for others. Interestingly, when youth in the survey were asked about this slogan, nearly half aligned themselves with the Prime Minister’s vision of becoming job creators, suggesting resonance with the government’s emphasis on entrepreneurship. Conversely, a little over one fourth (27%) stated they would seek employment. Nearly one in 10 also mentioned an inability to marshal resources to generate employment for themselves and others. This segment does not directly negate the overall idea of job creation (Table 3).

Across gender, men exhibit a higher preference for this role, with nearly three in five young men (58%) expressing their willingness to become job creators compared to two in five (39%) women intending the same. Moreover, within various streams of study, the preference for becoming a job creator was higher among commerce students (54%), followed by science (48%). Students studying the arts (39%) were less likely to aspire for this role (Table 4).

Who should generate employment?

In the ongoing debate over who bears the responsibility in employment generation, the narrative swings like a pendulum between governmental bodies and individual citizens.

This discourse not only reflects the complexities of economic challenges but also plays a significant role in shaping public opinion. The attribution of responsibility to escalating unemployment rates is clearly visible among close to half the respondents. Three out of every 10 youngsters hold the Central government accountable, while one seventh point towards the State government for the squeeze in job opportunities.

Moreover, one third of the students attribute individual responsibility to the lack of employment opportunities (Table 5) and this perception is further nuanced by the belief in the efficacy of the Central government’s efforts.

While some acknowledge the endeavours made by the government in creating job opportunities, others assert that these efforts have fallen short of expectations. Interestingly, only one in every six (16%) admitted to a complete failure on the part of the Central government in providing adequate employment opportunities (Table 6).

Will issue of unemployment drive voter’s choice?

In the realm of electoral decision-making among Delhi’s youth, unemployment and inflation emerge as the important issues shaping voting preferences. Nearly four in five youngsters assert that the issues of unemployment and inflation would impact their voting decision. When asked to select the most important issue that would shape their vote choice, the issue of unemployment eclipses other important concerns, with nearly two-fifths of the students emphasising its significance. In contrast, inflation (23%), leadership under Prime Minister Narendra Modi (12%), corruption (9%), and other issues trail behind (Table 7).

This data captures the centrality of economic concerns, especially unemployment, in shaping the electoral calculus of Delhi’s youth.

In the lead-up to the 2024 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP has strategically positioned itself as the forerunner of development and inclusivity, particularly targeting the youth demographic. The data suggests that despite the BJP’s emphasis on entrepreneurship and self-reliance, the youth’s aspiration for stable government jobs persists, highlighting a desire for security amid economic uncertainties.

Furthermore, the attribution of responsibility for rising unemployment exposes the politicisation of economic issues, with divergent perceptions of the government’s effectiveness in addressing this challenge.

Ultimately, the issue of unemployment emerges as a pivotal factor shaping the voting preferences of Delhi’s youth, eclipsing other concerns such as inflation and leadership.

The writers are with the CSDS.

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