Tuesday 15 April 2014

DAKSH-India Together Fellowship

DAKSH and India Together (www.indiatogether.org) have instituted the DAKSH-India Together Fellowship to encourage data journalism centered around elections. Two of our scholars have written their first pieces- I found both of them to be extremely insightful. In this age of "opinion journalism", this is certainly welcome trend. Congratulations to the editorial team of India Together in starting this initiative and partnering with DAKSH.

Thursday 10 April 2014

Caste- myths and realities

In election season, everybody is a pundit and has a view about the factors that will determine the outcome of the election. The diversity of the electorate ensures that everyone can get their voice in and can claim credit for predicting something right!  One of the all-time favourites during election is the argument around caste and its importance.  For the national English media, the relevance of caste is almost a holy grail, partly because they are unable to understand the intricacies of caste at a local level; it is one of the “others”, but an “other” they believe to be important because everybody including politicians tell them it is the most important other in politics. Regional media thrive on caste; in Karnataka, my home state, veteran journalists and political analysts cry themselves hoarse about various sub-caste intricacies and how one important sub-caste is important or has been hurt and is bound to impact the result dramatically.  And yet, after each election, politicians and the media go to town talking about how the vote was for change (positive or negative) or for good governance or development!
In the DAKSH and Association for Democratic Reforms (“ADR”) survey, we asked the respondents whether caste was important to them when voting in an election. I have tried to capture some of the results in this short entry.
The big numbers- 58% of our respondents (nearly 2,50,000 of them) said that caste of the candidate is not an important factor for them while voting in elections; 24% of our respondents said it was an important factor and 14% said it was a very important factor for them. So, 38% of the respondents said caste of the candidate is important for them when voting in an election. So, caste, whether we like or it is still relevant.
Let us look at some of the other highlights- the biggest surprise was Gujarat. 60% of the respondents said that caste was very important for them and 24% said it was important, making 84% of the respondents saying that it was an important factor.  This was the highest in the country by a long long way! What does this say about the development and good governance NaMo? I will let you make your own conclusions.
Second, of the respondents with a background in the defence sector, nearly 22% said caste is very important and 25% said it is important making 47% of those with a defence background saying that caste is important for them when they vote in elections. Again, this is a shocker given the defence services emphasis on unity and integrity.  Contractors came next with around 42%.
Another surprise is the contrast (or the lack of it) between those with an IT background- nearly 39% say caste is important (of this 16% said it is very important)- and those in Agriculture- for which the number is 36% (of this only 12% said it is very important). What does this say- caste has more or less the same role, whether in rural areas or urban areas and whether you are in a modern profession or a traditional profession.
Let us next look at educational background- irrespective of the level of education (i.e., postgraduate, graduate, high school, primary etc) or lack of it, approximately similar percentage of people feel that caste is important (the % varies between 36 and 41 with high school educated being the highest and primary school educated being the lowest).   Similar even patterns are evident when we look at wealth distribution- the % of people who say caste is important varies between 30 to 35%.
The biggest surprise however is in how people from different castes feel. The % of people who believe that caste is important for them during elections in the OBC, SC and ST category varies between 31 and 35, but is a whopping 43% for people belonging to the General category. Again, I will let you come to your own conclusions on this as well.
We should only remember one aspect, there is no single constituency in the country where a candidate can win with support from only one caste or indeed, the lack of support from any caste (a point that Dipankar Gupta has lucidly explained in his op-ed in The Hindu on March 21http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/lead/the-caste-bogey-in-election-analysis/article5811003.ece). Further, if any caste is dominant (not only in numbers but because of their influence based on wealth, land holdings and patronage) in a constituency, all political parties put up candidates belonging to the same caste. Analysts argue that in such a case, the caste of the state level or the national level leader becomes relevant! 
We will come up with more analysis on this shortly.

Wednesday 2 April 2014

Why do people vote the way they do?

Caveat emptor: I wish I knew. And so do hundreds of wannabe-MPs right now, I'm sure. Karthik Shashidhar's very interesting analysis of our data in Mint earlier this week documents some of the reasons we heard from nearly 2.5 lakh people across the country. In all our past surveys, as in this one, the Candidate is the most common selection: that people vote for the Candidate instead of his/her Party (the second most chosen factor), his/her Party's PM candidate, etc. In all our surveys, again, we've noticed a pattern that Karthik panned us about: 86% of the people who voted said their candidate won. That's obviously not possible, as he's pointed out. Then what's at work here? Let me see if I can address that here.
To understand this, let's look at the most common reasons for people voting they way they do:
  • Ideology-based. This is typically a Leftist and Rightist position: that one votes for a candidate based on the candidate's ideology, if it is clearly present and aligned with one's own. In recent years, people who were just left or right of center have been pushed further along their direction, thanks to strident rhetoric on both sides.
  • Issue-based. Not so common in India (yet!), this is typical in state-level elections in the US, where a specific issue (mostly clothed as a Proposition) becomes a significant factor to drive voters to specific candidates.
  • Caste-based. Traditional wisdom in India is that the electorate is caste-driven, to a very large degree. Our surveys have consistently reported the complete opposite, but survey-theorists will tell you that that's because people are not comfortable telling you that they vote by caste, so they pick something else in the survey. It is also true that the political parties make a big deal about this, choosing candidates from the same caste against in a given constituency.
  • Patronage-based. Particularly in semi-urban and rural areas, "powerful" politicians establish a network of patronage, through everything from granting contracts to paying a visiting farmer a little bit of cash. This pays off at the hustings, since the recipient's "gratitude" overwhelms even the most heinous behaviour of the candidate.
Yes, these are the major reasons, but I think the most important reason comes out of the lacuna that Karthik has pointed out: people vote for the winner. The way I see it, people say they voted for the winner because, in the absence of the reasons above, they want to vote for the candidate that they believe will win. And this is a fact that politicians know very well, hence their strutting in public, staking claims of popularity and "winnability" well beyond the realms of possibility. Seasoned politicians know that they need to be seen as the winner, to be the winner. And this is borne out in personal discussions for all of us, too: people regularly reject candidates with the comment "Oh, but s/he can't win", as if that decides the reason to vote for someone.
So there you have it: you want to win an election? Be seen as the winner!