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Friday, December 17, 2010

Election and Voting Behavior

The election system is the pillar of Indian democracy. The system consists of various levels of elections to the Lok Sabha (the House of Representatives of the Union), State Legislative Assemblies, and Panchayati Raj Institutions (local self-governing bodies under State Governments).

The most interesting questions about an election are not concerned with who won but with why people voted the way that they did or what the implications of the results are. These questions are not always easily answered. Looking only at the campaign events and incidents will not suffice. The unique aspects of the election must be blended with a more general understanding of electoral behavior to create a full explanation. We thus need to discuss basic concepts and ideas used in the study of voting behavior as a basis for analyzing the 2008 results.

Two major concerns characterize the study of electoral behavior. One concern is with explaining the election result by identifying the sources of individual voting behavior. We attempt to understand the election outcome by understanding how and why the voters made up their minds. Another major concern in voting research emphasizes changes in voting patterns over time, usually with an attempt to determine what the election results tell us about the direction in which American politics is moving. In this case we focus on the dynamics of electoral behavior, especially in terms of present and future developments. These two concerns are complementary, not contradictory, but they do emphasize different sets of research questions. For our purposes, these two concerns provide a useful basis for discussing key aspects of voting behavior.

Sources of Individual Voting Behavior

On what basis do voters decide how they will cast their ballot? Several basic factors can be identified as reasons for choosing a candidate in an presidential election. A voter may choose a candidate on the basis of one or more of the following considerations:

1. orientations on issues of public policy

2. assessments of the performance of government

3. evaluations of the personal traits of the candidates

When voters are asked what they like or dislike about a specific candidate--i.e., what might make them vote for or against that candidate--most of their responses fall into one of the above three categories.

These orientations and evaluations in turn are influenced by two more general attitudinal factors:

party identification

general ideological dispositions

Party identification and ideology are more general, long-run factors that influence voting behavior primarily by affecting the attitudes that are more immediate to the vote decision in a particular year.

The various factors that influence the vote decision vary in their stability over time. Evaluations of candidate qualities and government performance are distinctly short-term forces, capable of substantial shifts from one election to the next. Party identification and ideology are much more stable in the short term. Not many voters change their party identification or ideology from one election to the next, and the changes that do occur often are fairly small ones. Issue orientations fall somewhere in between. While the specific issues crucial in presidential elections can change dramatically, as can how the voters evaluate the presidential candidates on the issues, many basic policy questions (e.g., defense spending, social welfare programs, abortion) stretch across several elections, with partisan differences remaining relatively constant.

The various attitudes and orientations that influence voting behavior in presidential elections are interrelated. Understanding the interrelationships among these factors is important for a full understanding of voting behavior.

Electoral Dynamics

Election results often change dramatically. A lopsided victory for one party may be followed by a landslide for the other party in the following election. Electoral changes can be divided into two types: short-term and long-term. Short-run changes are the result of fluctuations in factors that are specific to an election, such as the characteristics of the candidates or the condition of the economy. These short-term factors may be moderately favorable to the Democrats in one election, strongly favorable to the Republicans in another, and evenly divided in a third.

When it comes to voting behavior, an important question is how -

family votes.

Does the whole family vote for a single candidate, or do the different members of the family vote independently. To be clear, the question here is not whether the whole family votes for the same person or not – the question is whether each member of the family makes the decision to vote for a particular candidate independently, or if the family discusses and decides who gets all the votes from the household.

Caste votes

It is important that people votes based on caste factor.It is not caste that is politicised but it is the politics that is castecised in India.so people’s vote preferences depend on caste questions. A number of attitudinal and social factors are related to individual voting behavior. Among attitudinal factors, assessments of the personal characteristics of the candidates, evaluations of government performance, orientations on specific policy issues, party identification, and ideology are the primary determinants of candidate choice. For social factors, race, religion, region, social class, gender, marital status, and age appear to be the characteristics that have most closely related to voting over the past several decades. Examining how these factors are related to the vote in particular elections both allows us to explain individual election outcomes and to understand electoral dynamics.

Lecture notes prepared by Biju P R,Assistant Professor in Political Science

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