Urbanites are drastically losing faith and interest in the electoral process, indicates data emerging this election season. The voting percentages in three major South Indian cities in the ongoing Lok Sabha elections are dismal, with barely half the registered electorate exercising their franchise. According to the provisional data, voter turnout in Chennai, Bengaluru and Hyderabad respectively were 59 per cent, 50 per cent and 39.5 per cent. In fact, it were the cities that pulled down the overall voting percentages in all these states.
Interestingly, the bulk of voter awareness campaigns conducted across the country primarily targeted the urban voter. The Election Commission sent campaign vans, flashed TV ads; private startups like Swiggy, Flipkart and Ola gave incentives to employees to cast their ballot; social media was abuzz with eminent personalities asking public to step out and vote. Still, voting percentages in all these three cities have dipped compared to previous years. What more? Now small towns, too, which have become rapidly urbanised over the years, are witnessing a plunge in voter participation. In Madurai, for instance, the turnout has dropped significantly over the years, from 77.5 per cent in 2009 to 67.8 per cent in 2014 to just 62 per cent this year. In Coimbatore, the numbers have fallen from 70.8 per cent in 2009 to 68 per cent in 2014 and 63.6 per cent this time.
A 2016 paper titled Do Urban Voters in India Vote Less? published by Kanchan Chandra and Alan Potter confirms this trend. “From 1989 onwards, within states, there has been a negative relationship between urbanisation and turnout in small and medium-sized towns as well,” the paper notes. Experts say this trend could have far-reaching consequences, as educated urbanites are crucial for better democratic outcomes. According to a 2014 study published by the Indian Statistical Institute, “Compared to general voters, educated voters’ support is 20 per cent less for heinous criminals, 20 per cent less for the corrupt and 13 more for females.”