Election Commission survey of voter behaviour in Gujarat suggests majority electorate don’t think voting is their right or duty

voterA recent survey, carried out under the auspices of the Election Commission of India’s Gujarat office, has found that, despite a high voter turnout, the electorate are generally indifferent towards the political process. A counterview.org report:

The Knowledge, Attitude, Behaviour, Belief and Practices (KABBP) survey, carried out this year by the office of the Chief Electoral Officer (CEO), Gujarat State, has revealed clear voter indifference in the political process, with only 37.42 per cent of the voters saying that “voting is their right and duty”. The survey was carried out in two phases – first in February 2013 and then in June-August 2013 – as part of the Election Commission of India’s (ECI’s) Systematic Voters’ Education and Electoral Participation (SVEEP) initiative with the aim to find out how successful have various interventions been “for increased electoral participation in Gujarat”, even as identifying “possible factors and reasons of the (voters’) participation or non-participation in the election process.”

While in the first phase, held in February 2013, as many as 6,388 voters from 104 polling booths located in 26 assembly constituencies in as many districts were interviews, in the second phase, in June-August 2013, about 5,040 voters in 80 polling booths in 21 constituencies of 19 districts were selected. “The sample areas were chosen to represent the rural-urban, general and reserved (scheduled castes and scheduled tribes) constituencies of the state”, the study says, adding, “Special care was taken to ensure that female high and low voter turnout was also represented in the sample.” The survey was commissioned to the postgraduate departments of business management and social work of the Sardar Patel University, Vallabh Vidyanagar, Anand district.

Important “reasons for voting” identified by majority of voters, interestingly, was not their duty and right to vote, but that they “possessed a voter slip” and it was a “good and right thing to do.” Political indifference towards the voting process was also found to be prevalent when majority of those who surveyed – 58 per cent of the respondents – said they “did not feel the need for reforms in the election process”. In the second phase of the survey, 771 voters out of 6,414, or 12 per cent, did not vote, did not vote because they were not there in their constituency, or the timing as at odds with their working hours, or they did not have the electoral photo identity card (EPIC) or their name was missing, or that “because they felt nothing would change.”

The voters identified several difficulties in the democratic process, of which they are a part. Thus, the survey also found that 54.8 per cent of the respondents felt there was an “excessive use of money in the elections, leading to corruption in politics.” Further, as many as 34.96 per cent of the respondents felt that perceived “security threat of any nature during the elections”. The KABBP study found that “greater threat was perceived by urban electors compared to other regions”, but did not give separate figures of the two areas. Nor did it say what type of threats voters in such large numbers perceive. Not without reason, the survey found that 22.51 per cent of the respondents did not agree with the view that “our democratic process is successful or very successful”, to quote from the study.

The voters also identified several problems in the electoral process itself. Thus, as many as 40 per cent of the respondents said it was not easy to get the EPIC. And of these, 15.96 per cent felt that it was difficult to get EPIC because of “long procedure, unfriendly officials, and inaccessibility of the concerned office.” Further, 30 per cent of the electorate did not think that their experience while voting in the 2012 was “good” or “very good.” While large number of respondents (86.8 per cent) said they “did not face any difficulty in voting”, as many as 21.79 per cent of the respondents said that the polling staff was not cooperative. Further, while only “a handful” complained of political coercion, the problems they identified included “long queues at booths, no separate line for senior citizens, lack of drinking water, toilets and ramps at the booths.”

Identifying another problem, the KABBP study says, as many as 69.44 per cent of the respondents “were not aware of the existence of Matdar Sahayata Kendras (MSKs — Voter Facilitation Centres).” It claims,   “out of those who were aware of the MSKs 57 per cent had visited the centres and 83 per cent were satisfied with the services of the centres”. Then, majority of the respondents were aware of the existence of a voter list, even then as many as 9.16 per cent were not aware of it. The study adds, “Out of these, a total of 94.82 per cent respondents had their names present in the voter list; 86.84 per cent respondents were aware of minimum age for being on the voters’ list; 34.10 per cent respondents got information related to inclusion of their name in the list through personal sources; and 86.86 per cent reported their names were correctly noted in the voters’ list.”

voter1At the time of voting, significantly, 58.77 per cent voters said the candidate was the “most influencing factor of voting preference.” The study underlined, “Other influences were community or caste leader, spouse, head of family, friends and religious or spiritual leader.” As for voter awareness campaign carried out by the CEO, Gujarat State, 56.8 per cent said they were “aware” that it was launched to “educate voters.” Most of the time they got “educated” about voting through the mass media – newspapers (24.3 per cent), Doordarshan or government TV (16.4 per cent), posters, hoardings and publicity material (17.5 per cent), cable TV (6.19 per cent), All India Radio (5.88 per cent), FM Radio channels (5.55 per cent), and educational institution (5.11 per cent).

The study says, “The baseline KABBP study helped identify gaps in previous voters’ education interventions as well as in obtaining a deeper insight into the psyche of the target audience. It helped in designing and planning of SVEEP activities in a more focused manner. Based on the findings of the baseline study, several interventions to increase voter registration and voter turnout were identified, planned and implemented across the state with district-wise variations based local requirements.” At the same time, the study admits that SVEEP is still a “learning by doing phenomenon, whereby the (Office of the CEO) modified/ added/ deleted in its plans depending on the feedback from the ground level implementation.”

— Rajiv Shah

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