Electoral Reforms In India

Reading the lower voter turnout scenario


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Election process in India;

Mains level: NA

Why in the News?

Low voter turnout has been a notable trend in the initial phases of the ongoing 2024 general elections in India which reflects the shift in dynamics of democratic politics.

American Scenario during Past Elections:

  • Conventional Wisdom: In the U.S., increased voter turnout is traditionally believed to benefit Democrats. For example, it was argued that higher voter turnout could have altered the outcome in favour of Hillary Clinton in states like Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin.
    • According to Daron R. Shaw and John R. Petrocik in “The Turnout Myth” (2020), Hillary Clinton’s support did not significantly vary with voter turnout.
  • Class Cleavages: The advantage Democrats gained from higher turnout has decreased since 1960 due to the erosion of class-based voting patterns.
  • Simulation Studies: Research by Michael D. Martinez and Jeff Gill, and later by Spencer Goidel, Thiago Moreira, and Brenna Armstrong, used simulations to predict how changes in turnout would affect election outcomes. In recent studies, the impact of increased turnout on party advantage has varied over time.

Perception About the Party’s Prospects:

  • High confidence in a party’s victory can deter voters from participating, thinking their vote is unnecessary.
  • Polls showing Bill Clinton’s like victory during the 1996 US Elections,  led to low voter turnout, with some Clinton supporters abstaining because they believed his win was assured.
  • While both Clinton and Dole supporters showed reluctance to vote due to predicted outcomes, it led to higher abstention to vote for them.

Indian Scenario:

  • Class and Caste based: The 2019 Indian election saw a significant jump in the SC vote for the BJP, from 24% in 2014 to 34% in 2019, indicating a shift in voting patterns among Scheduled Castes. The Upper Caste Poor voted 49% BJP and 9% Congress, while Poor OBCs and Poor STs also followed a similar pattern. Poor Muslims, however, voted 8% BJP and 30% Congress.
  • Religion and Language-based: Religion is a significant factor, with political parties often indulging in communal propaganda to exploit religious sentiments. Language also plays a role, with parties arousing linguistic feelings to influence voter decisions.
  • Region and Personality based: Regionalism and sub-regionalism are important, with regional parties appealing to regional identities and sentiments. The charismatic personalities of party leaders, such as Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, and Narendra Modi, have significantly influenced voter decisions.
  • Voter turnout trends in India have fluctuated, with no consistent correlation to incumbent advantage or disadvantage.
  • It is generally believed that higher voter turnout is detrimental to incumbents, though recent elections (2014 and 2019) saw high turnout with incumbent victories.
  • The voting patterns of habitual versus non-habitual voters likely vary significantly, influenced by the diverse and multi-party nature of Indian politics.
  • Decreased turnout in the 2024 general elections could be due to factors like weather, COVID-19, economic issues, and voter apathy, potentially impacting different parties in varied ways.


The role of non-habitual voters in Indian elections adds an element of unpredictability, making it difficult to draw firm conclusions until election results are finalised.

Mains PYQ:

Q Individual Parliamentarian’s role as the national law maker is on a decline, which in turn, has adversely impacted the quality of debates and their outcome. Discuss. (UPSC IAS/2019)

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