New Delhi: Almost four out of every 10 urban voters (or 37%) in India are online, just a little less than the number (42%) that are undecided about whom they will vote for in the 2014 general elections, according to a survey by Google India and research agency TNS released on Tuesday.
To be sure, the two sets needn’t necessarily be mutually exclusive.
The Google-TNS survey said the biggest consideration for online urban voters is the political party (36%), followed by candidates (35%) with party leadership coming in a distant third at 17%. Only 11% of those surveyed said they would vote for a party based on its prime ministerial candidate.
The Election Commission estimates the total number of voters to be 725 million. According to provisional census data, out of India’s 1.21 billion population, 833 million live in rural India and 377 million in urban areas, Mint reported on 7 September.
Using the same proportions, the number of urban voters is around 225 million. And the number of those online, around 83 million.
However, there is no certainty that all these voters can be reached through digital media and be influenced to cast their votes for a party or a candidate. First-time voters, estimated from census data and adjusting for the fact that the survey was conducted in 2011, account for 149.36 million of the electorate.
The main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has already declared Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi as its prime ministerial candidate. While 45% of those surveyed said they would want to see more information on the Internet to help them make up their minds, 65% said they do not share their political views online. According to Rajan Anandan, vice-president and managing director of Google India, while in the beginning of this year there were 150 million Internet users in the country, it is set to reach 200 million mark by year end.
Modi remains the most Google-searched politician in India, and Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi is second on the list. The BJP is the most searched political party, followed by the Congress.
The survey was carried out between March and September this year, covering 65 constituencies, 59 cities and 7,042 respondents—all registered voters who use the Internet.
Also on Tuesday, the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) released a report showing that increasing spending on social media campaigns can swing 3%–4% of votes in 24 states where Internet usage is sizeable. Social media marketing can play a decisive role as a swing over 1% can change the outcome of elections, it claimed.
The number of social media users in urban India is set to reach 86 million in October this year, and 91 million by the end of this year, according to IAMAI. Political experts are, however, sceptical about the impact of the Internet and social media on the general elections next year. “There would be a little impact but to say that there would be a major effect of it would be a little difficult,” Abhay Kumar Dubey, a political analyst and fellow at the Centre for Study of Developing Societies, a Delhi-based think tank, said.
“We have seen social media’s impact as a mobilizing instrument for agitational purposes but it cannot be said whether it can play a role in voting preference.” Sunil Abraham, executive director of Centre for Internet and Society (CIS), too was sceptical about the impact of Internet usage on elections.
“Urban voters who are online make a small percentage of the voter base. It is not clear whether the sample size of the study was big enough to draw any significant conclusions. So far we have been told that the young urban voter does not always vote and he or she prioritizes a weekend getaway over participating in the general elections,” he said.
Abraham also said that the younger voting population does not vote according to any one trend. “Young people online are a representative subset of the general population divided across political preferences and ideologies. There is no evidence that they will vote as a block and will be extremely susceptible to social media based propaganda,” he added.