TO WHAT EXTENT DO INDIA’S VOTERS DECIDE THEIR VOTE ON THEIR OWN?
In its National Election Studies (NES) conducted during Lok Sabha elections since 1996, Lokniti has almost always asked a question to voters about whether they follow someone’s advice while determining their voting preference. The question has always been open-ended and has mostly been similarly worded as follows: ‘In deciding whom to vote for, whose opinion or advice mattered to you the most? An analysis of this question shows that while a majority of Indian voters have tended to decide their vote on their own and continue to, their tendency to do so has decreased. In 1996, three in every four voters (74 per cent) who voted claimed that their vote choice was not influenced by anyone. In the 2004 election, the proportion of such independent voters dropped to 63 per cent or almost two in every three. By 2009, it went down further to 54 per cent. In the 2014 election, while the share of independent deciders went up to 62 percent, it was nonetheless a bit lower than 2004 and far less than the figure recorded in 1996. On the other hand, the proportion of advice-heeding voters has consistently been above one-third for the last decade. This proportion could well be an underestimate as some voters, particularly the educated ones, who may have actually gone by someone’s advice but may not have admitted to doing so in order to appear socially desirable. Moreover, many who did not answer the question may also have been advice-heeders but may have remained silent to avoid being judged.
The question then arises, whose advice is this significant proportion of voters heeding during national elections? The data clearly indicates that a majority of Indian voters who do not decide their vote on their own are dependent on their family members or their spouse for guidance more than anyone else. What is interesting, however, is that the influence of the family on voting choice, even though higher than any other influence, has actually been declining. In 1996, 75 per cent of advice-heeding voters went by the opinion of a family member or spouse. This proportion dropped marginally to 73 per cent in 2004 and then drastically to 56 per cent in 2009. In 2014, it fell further to 51 per cent. As family’s importance declines, an advice-following voter’s proclivity to take into consideration the opinion of a caste or community leader has been steadily increasing with time. In 1996, only about 8 per cent of them reported paying attention to a community leader’s opinion. By the 2014 election, it had nearly doubled to 14 percent
For More Read Vote Choice of Indian Voters: Guided or Independent? by Shreyas Sardesai and Vibha Attri in Studies in Indian Politics. Volume 5(2) Page 276–285