Is younger demography key to higher turnout?

Is younger demography key to higher turnout?

New Delhi: A desire for good governance and the growing credibility of the electoral process seem to have resulted in all four states recording a higher voter turnout in the ongoing assembly elections.

Also See | Growing Participation (PDF)

There is a significant improvement between voting trends seen in the 2009 general election and in the last assembly elections, and those seen in the current assembly elections in West Bengal (in the first phase), Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Assam.

In Assam, the voting percentage rose from 75.72% in 2006 to 76.03% in 2011; in Kerala from 72.38% to 75.12%; in Tamil Nadu from 70.82% to 78.12%, and in West Bengal from 81.97% to 84%. The voter turnout in the general election of 2009 was 58.19%; it was 58.07% in the preceding one.

Analysts say new voters, who constitute around 15-20% of the electorate and have been added to the voter list since the last assembly elections in these states in 2006, are more conscious of their rights. “Young people are more concerned about issues of governance," said B.D. Ghosh, senior fellow at the Institute of Social Sciences in Kolkata.

N. Bhaskara Rao, chairman, Centre for Media Studies, a Delhi-based think tank, too, attributes the phenomenon to an altered voter demography. “Around 40% of the voters are below 35 and around 15-20% are fresh voters who have been added to the voter list since 2006 assembly elections in these states."

Both Rao and Ghosh say steps taken by the Election Commission have also encouraged more people to vote. “Unlike in the past, when the political parties used to mobilize the voters, the Election Commission’s agents are doing it this time. (As a result) people have more faith in the elections," Ghosh said.

According to the numbers, and in keeping with past trends, voters in urban areas are less enthusiastic than their counterparts in semi-urban and rural regions when it comes to voting. For example, Chennai, Thiruvananthapuram and Kamrup Metropolitan district in Assam, which includes Guwahati, recorded 68.02%, 68.30% and 64.70% turnout, respectively, compared with 65%, 64% and 64% in 2006. The highest turnout in these states are in Karur (Tamil Nadu), Kozhikode (Kerala) and Dhubri (Assam) with 86.06%, 81.30% and 85.65%, respectively.

District-wise data for West Bengal was not immediately available.

Apart from ensuring security, especially at high-risk polling stations, the Election Commission had directed that voter slips be distributed by the district election officer instead of political parties as it used to be done in the past. “That seems to have clicked. People felt more serious about the voting itself," Rao added.

The recent elections also coincided with Anna Hazare’s indefinite fast for implementation of the anti-corruption Lokpal Bill. The agitation focused attention on the issue of corruption and drew support from young people.

“I would not say the fight against corruption has inspired them. It is the ‘civic sense’ factor, which has gone up among people," Rao said.

Ahead of the 2009 general election, studies showed that the percentage of the electorate represented by the winners both in state assemblies and the Lok Sabha had gone down—due to lower voter turnout and fragmented polity. In 2004, only 56% of India’s 670 million voters turned up to cast votes, down from almost 62% in 1998 and 60% in 1999.

One expert struck a contrary note.

Suhas Palshikar, professor in the department of politics and public administration at the University of Pune, said there is nothing significant about the increase in the high turnout. “There is nothing special in the voter turnout in these states and there is no correlation between the turnout and the outcome."

Graphic by Sandeep Bhatnagar/Mint