Voting behavior reflect the ways in which people tend to vote in public elections and why they vote in that particular way. It also reflects the voter’s choices, preferences, ideologies, concerns, alternatives etc. Article 326 of the Indian Constitution grants universal adult suffrage to citizen who is above 18 years of age. The main determinants of voting in India are the following:
Caste has deep roots in the Indian society. Caste occupies distinct position in moulding the voting behaviour in India and this happens in spite of the adoption of several provisions which prohibits discrimination on the basis of caste. The political parties in India formulate their policies and election strategies always keeping in mind the caste factor. Even the candidates are selected keeping the caste factor in mind. Election campaigns are made in such a way that it makes the voters to feel their respective caste identities.
For instance, the slogans like Jat Ka Vot Jat Ko etc. are made to please the voters on to vote for the candidates belonging to their caste. The recent Jat stir and agitation of Patel community of Gujarat testifies how deep seated are the feelings of people towards their caste and their groupings on the basis of caste. However the issue based politics is gradually becoming a determinant of voting behaviour at least in the urban areas and among the educated citizens.
➢ Ideology of the political parties
The ideology and political agenda of political parties are kept in mind by the voters. People tend to vote to political parties which pledge to solve their issues and have agenda which falls in line with their own expectations and ideologies. People even decide to vote for a particular party without analyzing the ability of the candidate. The enthusiasm and competition among candidates to get party tickets for contesting shows the prominence of political parties in determining the voting behavior in India.
➢ Personality of the Candidates and their orientation
In addition to the party, the strong and charismatic personality of the candidates and their orientation towards various issues and ideologies are also taken in to account by the voters. It is a well known fact that many independent candidates also win the elections by defeating candidates belonging to the major parties by their ability to gather people’s support by displaying maturity and clarity of political views.
➢ Age and gender of the candidates
The voters tend to vote for comparatively mature candidates rather than very old and young candidates. The very old candidates are considered to be weak and inefficient and the young candidates are perceived to be immature. Voters also tend to have bias and often prefer to vote for men than women candidates. Many still hold the view that politics are not suitable for women.
➢ Religion and Language
The existence of some political parties whose political agenda is linked with a particular religion tends to attract voters of that religion. For example, political parties such as Akali Dal, Shiv Sena etc. have made religion as a determinant of voting behaviour. Some political parties also seek votes by playing the religious card to woo the members of religious communities. They also pay visits to the religious places and have meeting with the religious leaders to carry forward their agenda.
India is a multi-lingual state. Since people have emotional attachment with their languages, they easily get influenced whenever any issue concerned with their language and identity props up during elections. For example, people of Tamil Nadu empathize with Sri Lankan Tamils and therefore they tend to vote for the party which supports their cause.
Sub-nationalism has also become a crucial factor in influencing the voting behaviour of the people. At times some ethnic and secessionist groups uses pressure tactics to forces the voters to vote in a particular way. Some regional political parties like Naga Nationalist Organization, Gorkha League, Jharkha party have used this tactics and determine the voting behavior of the concerned people.
➢ Money power
Voters are sometimes lured by political parties by offering cash for vote and providing services like digging wells, constructing tanks, roads, libraries etc. So, the people tend to vote to the political party which offers cash or service. Poor people also expect money from the candidates at the time of elections. They lack the wisdom of analyzing the outcomes of their action and vote if their immediate problems are addressed. Money power in elections is rampant in South India especially in the states of Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu.
➢ Effect of Illiteracy
In rural and tribal areas and among the illiterate people, traditionalism exercises a firm hold on the people and their beliefs. As a result many voters do not individually take the voting decisions. They take voting decision after having discussions in the family or blindly follow what the head of the family says.
Even though, the above traditional determinants continue to shape the voting behaviour of voters, there are some more determinants of contemporary relevance which plays a crucial role in determining the voting behavior. Today, the news and information which are available through traditional and social media also plays a critical role in influencing our voting decisions. News channels are full of heated debates that arouse emotions and throw more insight in to the issues, which in turn changes the perceptions of the voters. Also, social media plays a very important role in disseminating information among the masses. All the political parties already have started their full-fledged campaigns through social media platform especially to woo the youth and urban voters as opposed to the traditional way of election campaigning. This era belongs to the social media, but the main problem is that when masses are swayed by the sheer power of rhetoric and biased media reports which are indiscriminately circulated in social media, it sometimes has the potential to determine the fortunes of the electoral candidates.