Reasons for low voter turnout in elections

For common people, elections have become more like any other usual phenomenon that happens once in every five years than to showcase their right and clout in a democracy.

BySanjenbam Jugeshwor Singh

Updated 2 May 2024, 4:37 am

Representational Image (PHOTO: IFP)
Representational Image (PHOTO: IFP)

"All saint without, all devil within,” -precisely explains the scenario during elections, which essentially is fairly significant. The election, in the Indian context, often turns out to be a fiesta that sees a huge amount of money flowing in and around, lies and dishonesty floating in the air while true and honest gestures are time and again hidden somewhere in the middle of begging for votes and casting of votes.

For common people, elections have become more like any other usual phenomenon that happens once in every five years than to showcase their right and clout in a democracy. Though the phase of the election has changed over time, the motto remains the same and so does the attitude towards it. Election votes are majorly being driven by caste and religion-based politics in the country and have become nearly impossible in the present day Indian politics or we can rather say “politricks.

Despite multiple campaigns and initiatives by the Election Commission to improve voter participation when democracy hits the polls, though many seek a change in leadership, the increasing number of the population staying away from the poll booths are a matter of great concern.

Let’s have a look at the utmost reasons of why the extent of missing inks increases every election.

‘I don’t depend on the government: Partaking in an election is majorly fuelled by the reliance of people on the government. The number of voters that turn out from rural areas and slums is higher, compared to urban residents, as they are dependent on the government and governmental policies for meeting their needs. The dependence rate of the urban middle and upper class on the state has decreased rapidly as they have gained the capacity to get what they need with their own influence, background or money. Thus this sector of society stays away from the ballot booths, for instance, feeling that their votes neither gives them incentives nor does it bring about any differences in their lifestyle.

‘I don’t live at my place anymore: As a result of the migration of an ample chunk across places in search of a career and better lifestyle, the number of people staying away from their own constituency has witnessed a sizable increase. These migrants heed no attention in identifying local politics and hence decide on staying away from the whole process of election. The elections are time and again scheduled on weekends, which people use as a chance to enjoy the long weekend rather than an opportunity to cast their ballot.

‘Apathetic candidates: The people belonging to the middle class and younger generation find it very difficult relating to the so-called leaders, who are either a feudal lord living in the city or someone with a criminal background, or a celebrity with least knowledge of politics or even a generous blend of all the three. They often are ignorant towards the third party thinking that their vote wouldn’t make the third party candidate win.


‘See, I am protesting’: Some people stay away from the ballot booths pretending to be protesting against the prevailing filthy politics. Unfortunately, this method cannot be viewed as a positive protest, instead it is just an excuse used as a facade to hide indifference and legitimize non-participation. These people who tend to accuse politicians of being corrupt and unfit often wouldn’t even know the names of the candidates contesting in their constituency.

‘Digitization and Election: The promotional activities and advertisements by the Election Commission to make voting ‘cool’ by people and celebrities proudly showing the inked finger hasn’t really helped.

Voter apathy: Voter apathy is perceived apathy among those eligible to vote in an election. This can happen when voters are disillusioned with the electoral process or with the political parties and candidates, or when they don't think their vote will count, or when they don’t care much about the issues around them.

Menace of names missing from electoral rolls: Electoral roll analyst P.G. Bhat attributed the poor voter turnout to the ‘menace of missing names’ of genuine voters. “Elections officials had deleted lakhs of entries in an effort to clean up the rolls. However, there have been many wrong deletions, leading to the disenfranchisement of genuine voters. “Since the electoral system is insincere, voters get confused and frustrated, and this leads to a poorer turnout.”Mr Bhat said that the Election Commission should spend resources on correcting the electoral rolls instead of putting all their energy and time in conducting awareness drives.

Out-of-sync voter lists: Civic activists point out that improper deletions and duplicate entries are important reasons for low voter turnout. The issue is not apathy, but out-of-sync voter lists in mega cities that have a lot of migration and inter-city movement. Duplicate entries, voters going to villages or home towns to vote, improper deletions — these are known issues. If the baseline itself is wrong, the percentage will also be incorrect”. “This is not to absolve citizens. There is certainly a need to improve voting percentage, and political parties need to introspect why their manifestos and candidates are not able to motivate voters to come out enthusiastically”.

Urban apathy in most capital cities in India: India has witnessed a more than four-fold increase in the number of electors since 1962, with the number crossing 94.5 crore in 2023, but almost one-third of them did not exercise their franchise in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. Amid talks of taking the voter turnout to 75%, the Election Commission has recognised that people from urban areas, young voters, and migrants formed a big part of the 30 crore missing voters in the 2019 Lok Sabha election. According to data, of the bottom three parliamentary constituencies from select States, which recorded the lowest voter turnout in the 2019 general elections, nearly all the constituencies are in the capital districts of the respective States, or are part of urban centres.

As India sets on course for the Lok Sabha election 2024, the voter turnout ratio holds immense importance. However, poverty and deprivation may prevent people from stepping out of their homes to exercise their most fundamental right; if a study of the past voter turnout data is any indicator. It has been seen that poor people in India vote less, the latest SBI Eco wrap report shows.


Certain northern states like Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Jharkhand, which have higher poverty ratios, record lower voter turnout, said the SBII report. On the other hand, states such as Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Goa, Tamil Nadu, Haryana and Punjab, which have lower rates of deprivation, show higher voter turnout. In Manipur, as seen in print and electronic media, most of the voters don’t want to participate in the ensuing 18th Lok-Sabha election as they lost faith in the political parties who ruled Manipur in the past and present. As a result of this and the consequence of the present ethnic crisis, voter turnout is likely to be low in this election in Manipur.

India has reduced its poverty rate sharply to 28 per cent from 55 per cent between 2005-06 and 2015-16, according to a new version of the global Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI). With this, it has moved 27.10 crore people out of poverty. Yet, a significant portion of the population remains below the poverty line, experiencing various kinds of deprivations.

The Multidimensional Poverty Index by Oxford Poverty & Human Development Initiative is based on deprivations that each person faced with respect to education, health and living standard. It is in this context that the SBI report analyses the voter turnout patterns. For example, most southern and northern states which have been home to agricultural revolution have more conscious voters, said the SBI report.

Further, most of the Northeast and Eastern states have higher turnout rates and varied levels of poverty, the report added.Socio-political factors such as population size, age, educational attainment, political interest and economic backwardness hold immense power to affect the election outcome in many regions, said the report.

Meanwhile, it has also been found that the improvement in women empowerment increases women turnout rate during voting. India is witnessing an improvement in the level of women empowerment in the country, which is evident from the national women percentage share, which is 73.6 percent for MUDRA and 53 percent for PMJDY. This will also likely have an impact on the election outcomes in the country.      

(The views expressed are personal)                                                  


First published:


voter turnoutelection 2024voter rightselectorates

Sanjenbam Jugeshwor Singh

Sanjenbam Jugeshwor Singh

Assistant Professor, JCRE Global College, Babupara, Imphal. The writer can be reached at sjugeshwor7@gmail.com


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