The following piece was originally published at the Studies in Indian Politics think tank and was written by Milan Vaishnav and Jonathan Guy. Milan Vaishnav is a Senior Fellow and Director of the South Asia Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, D.C. and Jonathan Guy is a Research Assistant at the University of Chicago. Take a look:
There is a longstanding, widely held belief in India that a positive increase in voter turnout is inherently anti-incumbent in nature. While the origins of this folk wisdom are indeterminate, statements in support of this contention are repeated ad nauseam nearly every election cycle. Proponents of this view argue that positive turnout growth—that is, an increase in voter turnout in the current election relative to the previous election—signals that the electorate is in a mood for change and, hence, the electoral fortunes of the incumbent government will be adversely affected. For instance, when discussing the growth in voter turnout in India’s May 2014 general election relative to the previous election in 2009, economist Surjit Bhalla claimed that ‘such a phenomena [sic] always goes against the incumbent. It is, if you will, bad news for the incumbent’ (Firstpost, 2014). After the 2016 state elections in Tamil Nadu, one election analyst proclaimed that ‘It is true that a huge voter turnout actually indicates an anti-incumbency wave. People turn up in huge numbers to vote out the government’ (Naig, 2016).
Given the widespread belief in a close connection between increasing voter turnout and anti-incumbency sentiment, it is surprising that there have been few (if any) systematic analyses of this relationship in the Indian context. Indeed, aside from the occasional newspaper opinion piece, we struggled to locate even one empirical analysis of the statistical relationship between turnout and incumbency in a scholarly publication. While in-depth analyses may be lacking, many experts have nevertheless begun to cast doubt on the conventional narrative in recent years. One of India’s leading election experts, Sanjay Kumar, told The Hindu (Shrinivasan, 2014) newspaper ‘I don’t know how this idea that high turnout is associated with anti-incumbency has persisted from generation to generation. The relationship has never existed.’
See the original full report at the Studies in Indian Politics.