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Overreading the turnout

Higher turnout doesn’t just reflect greater voter enthusiasm.

To begin with, a word of caution. Don’t get surprised by, or read too much in, the high turnouts in the recently concluded assembly elections in five states. A higher turnout in the four states of Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Delhi (Mizoram witnessed a marginally lower turnout of 81.2 per cent in 2013, compared to 82.2 per cent in 2008), should not be read as a vote against the incumbent. If higher turnout necessarily meant a vote against the ruling party, the Nitish Kumar government in Bihar, Sheila Dikshit government in Delhi, Narendra Modi government in Gujarat, and Bhupinder Singh Hooda government in Haryana should not have been re-elected — recent assembly elections in these states witnessed a much higher turnout compared to previous assembly elections. Nor does a lower turnout inevitably mean a vote for the status quo, or in favour of the ruling government. In the recent past, there have been assembly elections where turnouts declined and the ruling party lost the election, as in Rajasthan (2008).

The higher turnouts in the recently concluded assembly elections are merely a continuation of the trend we have witnessed in most assembly elections held since 2003. This higher turnout is more a result of the better quality of electoral rolls, especially in urban constituencies, due to the weeding out of the names of ghost voters, and less a reflection of the actual increase in the number of voters who cast their vote.

Provisional figures released by the Election Commission indicate a nearly 4 per cent increase in turnout in Chhattisgarh (71 per cent in 2008, 75 per cent in 2013), an increase of about 3 per cent in Madhya Pradesh (69.6 per cent in 2008, 72 per cent in 2013), and a nearly 9 per cent increase in Rajasthan (66.5 per cent in 2008, 75 per cent in 2013). By all indications, the turnout in Delhi has also significantly overtaken the figure of 57.6 per cent in 2008.

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