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Our democratic backsliding, in charts

Urban Indians across party affiliations hold great appeal for authoritarian tendencies, possibly due to increasingly polarized attitudes in society, the survey showed. Photo: AP Premium
Urban Indians across party affiliations hold great appeal for authoritarian tendencies, possibly due to increasingly polarized attitudes in society, the survey showed. Photo: AP 

  • Urban Indians across party affiliations hold great appeal for authoritarian tendencies, possibly due to increasingly polarized attitudes in society, the latest YouGov-Mint-CPR Millennial Survey has found

As the Indian republic turns 72 next week, many say its democratic values have come under severe strain over the last few years. While critics may blame the party in power, the public itself may be no less complicit, a new YouGov-Mint-CPR Millennial Survey suggests. Urban Indians across party affiliations hold great appeal for authoritarian tendencies, possibly due to increasingly polarized attitudes in society, the survey showed.

More than half of urban Indians (58%), led by older, highly educated, and richer men, exhibited strong or moderately partisan attitudes towards their preferred particular party. Such respondents were far more likely than others to support authoritarian rule by a powerful leader and exhibit impatience with democratic processes such as elections. These attitudes were uniformly spread across supporters of various parties.

The findings use a “partisan index" derived from responses to a set of four questions in the latest YouGov-Mint-CPR Millennial Survey, held in November-December 2021. Respondents were asked about their feelings towards their preferred party, their relationship with fellow supporters, and how they felt when others criticized or praised the party.

The survey covered 12,900 respondents across 206 cities. Conducted jointly by the Indian arm of the global market research firm YouGov, Mint, and the Delhi-based Centre for Policy Research (CPR), this was the seventh of a series of bi-annual surveys examining the aspirations, anxieties and attitudes of India’s digital natives. Roughly 45% of the sample were millennials, one-third post-millennials (aged 18-24), and the rest pre-millennials (40+).

Hail my party

The survey revealed interesting undercurrents to party affiliation. Around 41% of those identifying with a party supported it to the extent that they “always" referred to it as “my party", and 47% “always" felt good on hearing praise for the party. There was relative immunity to criticism: only 27% always found it like a personal insult.

Based on these responses, we classified 37% respondents as strong partisans, 21% as moderates, and 42% as weak partisans. The last set also includes those who didn’t identify with any party.

Men were substantially more likely to be strong partisans (42% versus 31% for women). The youngest respondents seemed the least partisan by a distance. The most educated showed greater partisanship, but there was no clear link at lower qualification levels.

Supporters of the Congress, the Bharatiya Janata Party and regional parties had nearly similar levels of political attachment—more than half of their supporters count as strong supporters.

Democracy’s challenge

A majority (51%) of respondents support authoritarianism over democracy and approve of the idea of dismantling Parliament and elections in favour of a strong leader or technocrats, the survey found. A similar share of people also advocated for military rule.

The survey data also suggests that there are no partisan links to having such views. Supporters of the Congress, the BJP and regional parties are surprisingly similar in their responses. If anything, the support for military rule and a strong leader is slightly weaker among BJP supporters than among supporters of the Congress or other parties.

The survey includes only urban Indians, and may not reflect the opinions of a majority of Indians who live in rural areas. However, given the high influence urban populations wield over the political discourse, such opinions could have far-reaching implications for the general political climate and democratic consensus in the country.

Price of Partisanism

The unpopularity of democratic tenets comes from those who connect strongly to a particular party. Among such strong partisans, two-thirds approve of authoritarian rule, military rule, or a country without elections. The share for weak partisans was one-third. This shows party identity is important to highly partisan citizens: they would be comfortable being ruled by someone who shares their ideological worldview rather than an adversary, even if this lets go of some democratic values.

High partisanship makes the society more polarised, which is known to be generally harmful for democratic values, and data from the survey supports this. Unless concerted effort is made by the political and social elite to reach across party lines, these attitudes could lead to swift democratic decline.

 

Rahul Verma is with CPR and Ankita Barthwal is a PhD researcher at the University of Oslo.

This is the third of a five-part data journalism series based on the biannual YouGov-Mint-CPR Millennial Survey. The first part focused on the great churn in the job market last year, and the second part looked at the rising trend of investing among young Indians.

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