What Does Lower Voter Turnout Mean, And Who Benefits From It?

What Does Lower Voter Turnout Mean, And Who Benefits From It?

Does lower voting mean there is no anti-incumbency spirit in the constituency?

Rohit ChandavarkarUpdated: Wednesday, May 22, 2024, 11:40 AM IST
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Representational Image | File

At the end of the fifth phase of voting in the country it has once again transpired that the voting percentage in the Lok Sabha polls of 2024 has been lower than the percentage seen in 2019 and generally speaking the response especially in urban areas has been sluggish in almost all the phases. Mumbai city, suburbs, Thane and many other urban areas saw a voter turnout that just about crossed 52% and it was considerably lower than previous elections.

A lot of discussion is happening on social media about why the voting percentage has been lower and who is likely to benefit out of this situation. While voting has been higher in states such as Bengal and some other states, Maharashtra is among the states that has seen the lowest turnout. There is a clear trend of urban and developed areas such as the constituency of South Mumbai witnessing lowest voting percentage while areas like Marathwada region which is considered to be underdeveloped, seeing a higher turnout of close to 70%. This clearly relates to the dependence of people or voters on various government agencies for providing solutions to their problems. In urban areas such as Mumbai South or Mumbai South Central people enjoy all public amenities and their dependency on government agencies for various solutions is the least while in places like Beed in Marathwada which saw the highest voter turnout og 70%, it is obvious that farmers and others have to depend more on elected representatives and the government for solution to their various problems.

Does lower voting mean there is no anti-incumbency spirit in the constituency? Traditionally it is believed that if the voting percentage is lower it would lead to no change in government and people coming out in large numbers would mean that they are angry and want to change the government. However in the past fifteen years this traditional theory has been proved wrong. In the state of Gujarat, the percentage of voting has been high but people did not go for change of government. Similar things were witnessed in Bengal and some other states too. So lower voting percentage may not mean people are happy with the government and higher turnout does not necessarily mean people want a change in the government. But in certain rural constituencies there is a clear pattern seen of high turnout leading to change in the winning political party in that perticular

Many political observers now believe that lower voter turnout may mean people in Maharashtra are perhaps unhappy about the way political leaders have switched sides, defected to rival parties or they are perhaps unhappy about the way certain parties have been divided by vested interest groups. Generally Maharashtra's voting percentage has been on the lower side because of fatigue setting in among voters about the way leaders switched sides and created confusion for months!

How the turnout being on the lower side will affect the political parties this time is a question many are asking. Firstly it will mean that smaller players like the independent candidates or small parties like the Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi who have not got into any seat sharing agreement with either of the big political alliances will find their vote share getting shrunk. Secondly it means that the vote margin of the parties or candidates who win in the polls will be much lower than previous elections. In some constituencies such as Sangli or Baramati the winning margins have been very high in the past. This time that margin will be very small in other words we are set to see tighter contests this time when counting happens.

The voter turnout in areas dominated by the farmer community has generally been higher. This clearly indicates that issues related to agriculture are likely to dominate this election. Many parts of Punjab, Haryana and Maharashtra saw large scale farmer protests and the voter turnout in Marathwada and Vidarbha has been higher than that seen in urban areas like Mumbai or Pune. In various constituencies of Mumbai city there were complaints from political parties that thousands of voters went back home without voting because of the process being very slow and people had to spend hours in the queue. Maharashtra Chief Minister Eknath Shinde told the media on Tuesday that he has asked the state chief secretary to run an investigation about why voting in Mumbai city and suburbs went very slow on Monday and whether the government staff was responsible for the delay that happened at some booths leading to large scale complaints from voters. How this will affect the result remains to be seen but the general sense is that it will equally affect all political parties, not just one side.

Despite appeals and canvassing done in media by the Election Commission of India and various celebrities to voters to come out and vote in large numbers the voting percentage remains low in many states all over the country. Is harsh weather one of the reasons behind this or is it simply voter apathy or disinterest is a matter to be studied. It is certainly damaging for democracy and hopefully the picture will improve in the coming years.

Rohit Chandavarkar is a senior journalist who has worked for 31 years with various leading newspaper brands and television channels in Mumbai and Pune

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