Woman voter a big factor

Data available with the Election Commission of India shows the trend of women voters rising in India.
Image ised for representational purposes only. (Photo | PTI)
Image ised for representational purposes only. (Photo | PTI)

BENGALURU:  Former American President Barack Obama once said, “There’s no such thing as a vote that doesn’t matter, it all matters.” In India, there was a time when the woman voter was treated as a ‘’non-entity’’ in elections. But as and when women became educated and empowered, the trend changed. Experts and political analysts say the woman voter is now the deciding factor, and every political party is redesigning its manifesto to make it suitable for women voters. 

Data available with the Election Commission of India shows the trend of women voters rising in India. Polls were first held in 1952, and data of women voters is available since 1962, when the polling percent of men was 63.3 per cent, whereas women accounted for just 46.6 per cent -- a difference of 16.7 per cent. The difference started coming down over the years, and in 2009, was down to 4.4 per cent. In 2014, the difference between men and women voters was just 1.5 per cent. Interestingly, in 2019, the gender gap witnessed a reverse trend. For the first time, women voters outnumbered male voters by 0.17 per cent. 

In Karnataka, there has been an increase in women voters. The first data available with the Election Commission says the then Mysuru State saw 52.79 per cent women voting in the assembly polls, while 64.86 per cent men cast their vote. Since then, the percentage of women voters increased drastically, but male voters rose slightly. In 2018, women’s voting percentage increased to 71.52, while men’s percentage remained 72.67. The trend of women coming out to vote increased since 1994 in Karnataka.

Experts point out that women voters made a difference when Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi and Narendra Modi were prime ministerial candidates. Most voters go by party. Traditionally, women voters did not come out to vote, but started stepping out after electronic media began widely advertising women’s rights. This is why post the 1990s, there is an increase in the number of women voters. Another reason is that women who went to school and college in the 1970s were educated, and realised the value of voting. However, in the Karnataka assembly polls, there is no trend like the Lok Sabha elections. 

In Karnataka too, there has been an improvement in the voter gender ratio -- it was 958 women per 1000 men in the 2013 assembly polls, and is 984 women per 1000 men in 2023.  In all, 2.13 crore women voters were registered in 2013, which increased to 2.44 crore in 2018. According to data released by the Chief Electoral Officer of Karnataka, the state registered 5.05 crore voters, of whom 2.54 crore are male and 2.50 crore are female. There is a difference of around 3.55 lakh voters. Data also says there are more women voters in 17 divisions, especially in the North Karnataka districts of Belagavi, Vijayapura, Bagalkot, Kalaburagi, Koppal and Uttara Kannada, along with Mysuru, Kodagu, Dakshina Kannada, Shivamogga and Udupi. 

A study by Delhi-based Centre for Studies in Gender and Sexuality (CSGS) points out that less than one per cent of voters go by the manifestos put out by political parties. This means that people do not see the announcements made by parties. In Karnataka, both national political parties are on spree of giving freebies for women -- while the Gruhalakshmi scheme which gives Rs 2000 to homemakers was announced by AICC general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra at a big event, Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai announced Gruhini Shakti, a similar scheme of Rs 2000 per month for homemakers. 

Leader’s charisma and liquor ban
Experts also point out that there are various reasons why women voters come out in large numbers, or even come to polling booths. A charismatic leader of a political party -- if he or she announces schemes for women or women empowerment -- makes a difference, as during the elections of Indira Gandhi and Narendra Modi. Also, if women learn that a particular political party gives more representation to them, they vote for it. This happened during Manmohan Singh’s period when the Congress announced 33 per cent reservation for women. There is an increase in youngsters voting, and more women young voters post 2014. Apart from this, if the constituency is represented by a woman, there is an increase in women voters. 

In assembly polls of many states, including Bihar, Rajasthan and even Odisha, during the 2014 polls, women played a big role as more came out to vote. In a study conducted by Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, in case of regional parties, political leaders’ announcements which target women make a difference. This was proved during the rule of J Jayalalithaa in Tamil Nadu, and NT Ramrao and Chandrababu Naidu in Andhra. Most of the women voted for these regional political parties as there was direct transfer of benefits to women. 

In Karnataka too, when HD Kumaraswamy’s Janata Dal (Secular) government announced a liquor ban, there was a good number of women voters, but this might not be applicable to national parties. However, there was no decisive voting by women in favour of any political party in Karnataka. 

There has been a change in priority for women voters over a period of time. During Indira  Gandhi’s regime, women would vote if she would go to the people and take part in traditional rituals. It also worked for Sushma Swaraj, who would take part in pujas in Ballari, and people there accepted her. But over a period of time, many schemes, including ‘Thaali Bhagya’ by the Siddaramaiah government, did not make any difference to women voters. In fact, many such schemes failed to woo women voters. 

Urban and rural voter 
When it comes to differences between urban and rural women voters, those in urban areas are largely democratic, where individuals or family members can vote for any party, according to their choice. But in rural areas, the patriarchal system works, where the vote is cast for the party and candidate decided by the head of the family.

Women voters played a major role in the victory of Yogi Adityanath in Uttar Pradesh and Nitish Kumar in Bihar. Women, especially in rural areas, buy the idea of a liquor ban, as addiction among men causes many problem in their family life. Experts point out that women voters, unlike men, do not vote for those who give money or liquor. Across the globe, women  traditionally vote for political parties that they think bring change or affect their immediate family members, whether it is education or health. Like any product sold in the market, voters are also wooed by political parties with programmes and policies. These are seen as  commodities which voters choose. Under this, women voters as buyers are much more responsible. 

Prof Harish Ramaswamy, Vice-Chancellor of Raichur University who earlier served as professor in the Department of Political Science at Karnatak University, termed the voters’ dilemma being similar to the ‘bridegroom dilemma’ theory. “Each family member gives suggestions, but it is he  who has to decide,” he said. 

With polls just a few weeks away, each political party is trying to woo voters, both women and men, but the ballot remains in the hand of the voter. It’s a wait and watch game. 

Related Stories

No stories found.

The New Indian Express