By Nilanjan Banik and G. Venkat Raman
In the US elections, research shows that there is a clear relationship between economic conditions and how the voters vote. Seth Masket, an eminent political scientist, argues how growth in real disposable income per capita is a relevant indicator, favouring the incumbent.
AS SOCIAL scientists, we are trained to assume every individual is smart. He takes all available information into account to maximise his objectives. For a consumer, the objective is to maximise benefit from consuming goods and services, for business, it is to maximise profits, for politicians, it is to win elections, and for the voters: Oh well, let’s see. Quick research on democratic elections provides ample evidence regarding the relevance of economic issues in determining electoral outcomes. For instance, in the US elections, research shows that there is a clear relationship between economic conditions and how the voters vote. Seth Masket, an eminent political scientist argues how growth in real disposable income per capita is a relevant indicator, favouring the incumbent.
Others have attributed level of education as an important factor allowing voters to make an informed decision. This is particularly relevant for India, as it is very easy to sway voter’s choice, using falsifying information through social media such as Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp. With two-thirds of India’s 900 million voters connected through the Internet and with an easier availability of personal information, it is easy to undertake a demographic profiling based on household characteristics, namely, gender, age, religion/caste, and geography (proxies for cultural differences in a vast country like India) thereby influencing the voting choice.
If past voting patterns are any indication then national security narrative post-Pulwama may not work. In the past, Post-Kargil standoff, led to a political backlash against ‘India Shining’ as the perception was the then NDA-Government was focusing too much on growth giving emphasis to industry and services sector, while neglecting the social/agrarian sector. Even post-Bangladesh 1971 war - which also saw India catapulted into the global arena through a host of events such as Pokhran 1 and launching of first unmanned earth satellite Aryabhata - did not favour the incumbent Congress Government which was defeated during the 1977 election. Notwithstanding the national security pitch, voters’ electoral choices have been primarily determined by their perception of who can deliver the basic ‘roti, kapda aur makan,’ and the newfound woe about ‘naukri’ and ‘religion’.
Voters’ preference changes depending on the place of their stay. For instance, a typical voter in Mumbai or in Delhi is more worried about factors affecting business. Issues relating to GST, and ease of doing business, will gain currency over caste/religion. The case in point is the poor performance of Maharashtra Navnirman Sena during the 2014 State election. Other progressive cities like Chennai or Bengaluru will probably vote for local issues, for instance, water availability in Chennai, and a cleaner environment and less congested city for Bengaluru. Religion takes a backseat.
On the contrary, for some of the less progressive States with lower per-capita income, issues related to jobs and religion take a pivotal role. For instance, there is a growing sense of discontent among people in West Bengal that faulty land acquisition policy is a reason why jobs are not getting created. Anti-incumbent are also likely to exploit the perceived minority appeasement politics played by the ruling party in Bengal. By the same note, in Uttar Pradesh (UP) with a large section of the farming community who are also into livestock production may feel disgruntled for issues related to ban on cattle slaughter and timely payment made to sugarcane farmers. Rural distress has cost the BJP two States Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. Thanks to technology, voters are now more informed. They are more likely to appreciate good governance, job creation, and sustainable livelihood, rather than the short-term doles. As the case with Bihar demonstrates, the perception about improvement in governance, cleanliness, and State-level infrastructure are more likely to reward the incumbent.
This is in contrast to the view that investing in infrastructure (Bijli, Sadak, Shyastha, and Pani) with far-reaching impact on sustainable development will reward any political party less than the reward associated targeted appeasement type social intervention such as delivering rice at Rs. 2 per kilogram. The voting pattern associated with appeasement politics has its own pitfalls. When political parties from less progressive States sense the myopic behaviour of electorate and indulge in political mobilisation on populist lines, it leads to further downfall.
This leads to trapping the State into underdevelopment and is not sustainable in the long-run. In other words, though identity politics does play a critical role, it pays dividends provided weaved with economic factors. In 2020, the median age of India’s population will be 29 years, making it the youngest population in the world. For these new-age voters, what matters is good governance, better health, and skills that will make them employable with an opportunity to move away from a low-productive agriculture sector to a higher productive industry and services sector. (IPA) (Nilanjan Banik is with the Bennett University, Greater Noida and G. Venkat Raman is with the Indian Institute of Management, Indore)