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The Curious Case of Declining Voters in the 2024 Elections

Context:

It is widely accepted that in a developing and growing country like India, the prices of essential goods, population, GDP, agricultural production, and professionals’ salaries generally increase every year. While the rate of increase may vary each year, the absolute numbers typically rise, except under exceptional circumstances. Similarly, the total number of people who vote in an election is expected to increase over a five-year election cycle.

Relevance:

GS2-

  • Elections
  • Representation of People’s Act

Mains Question:

In nearly one-third of all constituencies in the 2024 election, the total absolute number of voters declined vis-à-vis the 2019 election. How does the absolute number of voters differ from voter turnout percentages and what can be the possible reasons behind a decline in the absolute number of voters? (15 Marks, 250 Words).

Rise in the Number of Voters:

  • This is due to India’s growing population and the increasing number of individuals reaching the voting age of 18 each year, barring any rare demographic disaster that causes higher death rates or mass emigration.
  • Therefore, the total number of voters in a constituency in 2024 should be higher than in 2019. Although voter turnout percentages may fluctuate between elections, the actual number of voters generally rises between two five-year election cycles in India.
  • Hence, it is intriguing that in nearly one-third of all constituencies in the 2024 election, the total number of voters decreased compared to the 2019 election. An analysis of 427 constituencies up to Phase 5 shows that in 115 (27%) constituencies, fewer people voted than in 2019.
  • This decline in total voters across such a significant number of constituencies is almost unprecedented in India’s electoral history.

The Absolute Number of Voters and Voter Turnout Percentages:

  • It is important to note that this analysis concerns the absolute number of voters, not voter turnout percentages. While there is much focus on voter turnout percentages in the ongoing election, these percentages are insufficient for cross-election comparisons.
  • This is because turnout percentage depends on the total number of electors on the electoral rolls, which varies based on the number of new voters registered and the removal of deceased or emigrated voters.
  • These factors can vary significantly from election to election, depending on the thoroughness of the electoral roll cleaning by the Election Commission.
  • Therefore, the more meaningful and intuitive measure for comparison is the change in the total number of people who actually voted across elections.

Analysing Statistics:

  • By Phase 5, over 505 million people had voted in the 2024 election compared to 485 million in 2019, marking an increase of just 4%.
  • In contrast, the 2019 election saw a 12% increase in total voters in the same constituencies compared to 2014.
  • This indicates a significant decline in the growth of total voters in the current election compared to previous ones.
  • The most puzzling finding is that in 115 constituencies, the total number of voters decreased from 2019, which is unusual in a growing country like India. To provide context, none of these constituencies saw a decline in total voters in 2014, and only 19 did in 2019.
  • The question is how could so many constituencies experience such a dramatic drop in total voters. Even if one excludes small states and Union Territories that might skew the analysis, the result remains the same: in one-third of all constituencies, the total number of voters declined compared to 2019.
  • Most of the constituencies with a decline in total voters are in six states: Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, and Uttar Pradesh.

Reason Behind the Change in Total Voters:

  • The change in total voters from the previous election primarily depends on three factors: the number of new eligible voters, the number of voters who have emigrated, and the percentage of eligible voters who turn out to vote.
  • It is unlikely that there was an unexplained drop in the number of eligible voters, as this typically follows broader population trends.
  • It is also improbable that there was a sudden, significant increase in emigration from these 115 constituencies due to economic or other reasons, especially since none of these constituencies experienced a decline in total voters in either the 2014 or 2019 elections.
  • Therefore, the most logical explanation is a substantial decline in voter turnout, leading to a reduction in the total number of voters compared to 2019.
  • This raises the question of why there is a decline in voter turnout in a significant number of constituencies that the Opposition won in 2019 or is expected to strengthen in 2024.
  • Was the reduced turnout voluntary, or was there implicit coercion? If it was voluntary, what demographic or other factors could explain such a large and sudden drop in turnout in so many constituencies in states that are considered pivotal for the 2024 elections?
  • It cannot be attributed to voter apathy early in the election cycle, as the share of constituencies with a decline in total voters from 2019 fluctuates across different phases of the election.

Conclusion:

It is rare in the Indian context for constituencies to see a decline in the absolute number of voters between two five-year election cycles. However, nearly one-third of all constituencies experienced such a decline in 2024 compared to 2019. An explanation in this regard by the Election Commission can provide an explanation to this mysterious trend.


June 2024
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