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  Opinion   Columnists  07 Dec 2018  Polls and the missing voters’ voices

Polls and the missing voters’ voices

Sanjay Kumar is a professor and currently director of the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies. The views expressed are personal.
Published : Dec 8, 2018, 12:10 am IST
Updated : Dec 8, 2018, 7:22 am IST

The question is, if these are the real issues of voters how do political parties manage to put these issues aside and win elections with big fanfare?

Votes will be counted on December 11 and finally we will get to know who won and who lost the election.
 Votes will be counted on December 11 and finally we will get to know who won and who lost the election.

With voters in Rajasthan and Telangana having voted on Friday, the polling process in all the five states has come to an end. In the phased election, with different sates going to vote in different phases (Madhya Pradesh and Mizoram on November 28 and Chhattisgarh on November 12 and 20), the electioneering also came to an end in a phased manner. The voters in these states again witnessed a very high-pitched campaign by leaders of various political parties. While Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah took charge of the BJP’s campaigning, the Congress campaign was led by its president Rahul Gandhi and by other senior leaders, namely Ashok Gehlot and Sachin Pilot in Rajasthan, and Jyotiraditya Scindia and Kamal Nath in Madhya Pradesh. Given the nature of our electoral system (first past the post), one or the other party would win election and form the government. But the nature of campaigning in the recent elections and in other elections in recent past suggest voter’s issues are being completely ignored by political parties. The high-pitch campaign in which all parties were engaged in almost all the states with some exception, the election speeches were full of accusations, allegations and counter-accusations and counter-allegations. It seems this language of campaigning does help in arousing euphoria amongst the voters and even enthuse the party workers, but in this process, the political parties have very conveniently managed to ignore to a great extent the real issues of the people on the ground.

While issues like “naamdar” and “kaamdar” would echo during the campaign — not only in these Assembly elections, but also in the recent past in Gujarat and Karnataka — voters in the remote corner of the country want development. The campaign did not remain confined to these two references. There have been several very strong statements issued by leaders cutting across parties which has a potential of disturbing the social equilibrium of society — references to minorities, people belonging to specific castes, etc; references to Pakistan and several such issues which seem divisive. When there are references to such issues, it does arouse some euphoria as it is visible in many election rallies, but the question is: are these real issues which concern the Indian voters?

With great degree of certainty, I can say, these are not the real issues.

Findings of surveys conducted by the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies also suggest the real issues which concern the common voters of India and are far from what is so loudly pronounced in these election rallies. During the surveys, when asked to the voters, which is the biggest issue for them in these elections or on which issue they are likely to vote for, a very large majority of voters do mention development, followed by unemployment or price rise. During the pre-poll survey conducted by the CSDS in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh (during October-end and early November), a large proportion of voters mentioned unemployment, price rise and development as their prime concern. A lack of job or unemployment seemed to be the prime concern of 21 per cent voters in Madhya Pradesh, 26 per cent in Rajasthan and 27 per cent in Chhattisgarh. Price rise was another big issue amongst the voters in these states — 20 per cent for the voters of Madhya Pradesh, 17 per cent for the voters of Rajasthan and 13 per cent for the voters of Chhattisgarh. Other issues, which were also a matter of concern, were poverty and lack of development. While development is too big a word which encompasses various things, the expectation of the voters remains very small when they expect development from political parties. It normally narrows down to road, electricity, hospital, school and similar basic issues.

The question is, if these are the real issues of voters how do political parties manage to put these issues aside and win elections with big fanfare?

Findings of the surveys conducted by CSDS suggest, perception plays an important role in shaping people’s voting decision and the kind of aggressive campaign the political parties are engaged in recent times is an effective tool for creating such a perception. Evidence from studies conducted during the 2014 Lok Sabha election suggests that amongst the late deciders — those who decided about their voting choice at the last minute by getting influenced by the campaign — there was a strong bandwagon effect. During the 2014 Lok Sabha election, a majority of those who made up their mind on the cusp of polling mentioned that the winning party matters to them and they were more inclined to vote for the party which seems to be winning.

It is well-known how a strong perception of the BJP winning the 2014 elections was created much before the election and the findings suggest, the BJP seems to have benefited from that. Sadly, the high-pitched campaign of political parties, full of rhetoric by political leaders, without any substance helps in creating such an atmosphere and motivates the leaders to engage in far greater rhetoric now compared to the past. Even though the proportion of voters who decide about their vote during the campaign and also on the eve of election day, presumably get influenced by the campaigning, but still their numbers are very large to play a pivotal role in elections, more so in the case of close elections.

People have already expressed their voting choices, which are sealed in the electronic voting machines. Votes will be counted on December 11 and finally we will get to know who won and who lost the election. But given the evidence from the studies, one thing is clear, the party which managed to create a perception of winning the election may have had some advantage over the other. While the party loyalists, the core support of the party do vote for the party which they like, irrespective of whether the party of their choice wins or loses election, and that is what explains smaller regional parties getting small proportion of votes. But common voters do not want to waste their vote and these high-pitched campaigns in which political parties engaged help in creating this perception.

Tags: assembly elections, 2014 lok sabha elections