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Voter Apathy Amongst Youth

Introduction

 

2024 marks a pivotal year for democracies across the globe and is being widely remarked as ‘the election year’. Nearly 64 countries, the European Union with a combined population of 49% of the people will be participating in elections this year.[1] This year is indeed a detrimental year for democracies, being the only form of governance to involve people and representation of the majority, the participation of people is a key factor for democracies to continue to thrive.

 

As the countries are gearing up for elections, it comes with a multitude of challenges organizing free and fair elections, ensuring active participation of citizens, but a common challenge faced by most democracies is voter apathy amongst youth particularly. Even the oldest and stable democracies in Europe having a declining voter turnout, which is an impending challenge upon India now.

 

Voter Apathy

 Voting has been constantly associated with rational choice theory and has been categorized as a collective action decision. Individuals will aim at gaining maximum utility through their votes and will conduct a cost-benefit analysis considering several parameters before deciding to vote for whom. From a rational standpoint the benefit of voting is of miniscule value when compared to the cost of voting which is a theoretical explanation for voter apathy and declining voter turnout.

Voter turnout is the extent to which eligible voters use their vote on election day. Measured as the percent of votes cast at an election, including invalid votes” (Solijonov, 2016, p. 17).

Voter apathy is a lack of interest among voters to cast their votes in elections conducted in representative democracies, which is also perceived as the lack of political engagement. Political Apathy has been described as the most common cause of declining voter turnout Experiencing a sense of political alienation, separation and disaffection to politics and political institutions can be defined as political apathy[2]. The problem of voter apathy amongst youth is a pronounced issue in European democracies and even in America, this has become an emerging issue in India as well.

 

Voter Apathy In India

 

Voter apathy is a pressing issue faced in India, particularly prevalent amongst the youth in urban regions. Electoral participation has been substantially lower in metropolitan cities across India, on average the turn out for Lok Sabha election is 14-15% lower than the state’s aggregate turnout[3], around 290 – 300 million voters didn’t cast their votes in the 2019 Lok Sabha election.

Despite the increase in urban population from 28.6% as of 2001 census to 37.7% as of 2011 census. On an average the voter turnout in India for the Lok Sabha election conducted so far is 60%, about 40% of Indians don’t exercise their voting rights in national and state elections[4]. On close observation of the municipal elections, the voter turnout has been consistently lower than Lok Sabha and state elections. As per the official data, the overall turnout for the December 2022 municipal elections in Delhi is just 50.74%, while the affluent regions recorded just 40% turnout[5]. Similar trends have been followed in other major cities – Bengaluru, Chennai, Mumbai where the voter turnout lies between 45%-48%. As per the statistical projection by the Ministry of Urban Development, India’s urban population is to be 60% by 2050, hence rapid urbanization and lower voter turnout from the urban region presents a challenge Infront of the Election Commission and Policy makers in India.

 

As of 2023, out of the 1.4 billion population of India, more than 50% are less than 25 years of age and nearly 65% of them are between the age of 15 to 30.[6] Voting apathy amongst youth has been a pressing issue in India, according to Lokniti-CSDS studies, around 58% of the youth voted in 2009, in 2014 68% voted, but in 2019 a stagnation in the percent of voting youth is observed with just 67.4%, despite a growth of 9.3% in electorate size.[7]

 

A study conducted by the Gokhale Institute of Political and Economics in 2016 has found that voters in Mumbai exhibited a low Political Interest Quotient and lower political engagement levels giving a plausible reason for the low voter turnout. The findings also included identifying the categories of voters that fell in the rare category which included women, voters between the age of 18 and 35, high income groups and highly educated citizens.

 

Voters abstaining from participating in electoral process is an impending challenge upon Indian democracy and representative governments as it indicates that the majority is no longer in favor of the system, which puts the idea ‘government of the majority’ at stake , views and needs of the majority won’t be reflected in the policy , which can even result in exclusion of groups from electoral class, and government incentives won’t be beneficial for the unrepresented group, posing a wider risk.

 

With the citizens, especially the youth disengaging from political system and processes, indicates democratic backsliding. With increasing literacy levels, it is assumed to contribute to active political engagement, whereas in most of the Indian cities the educated are disengaging from the system, which is a paradox.

 

Reasons For Voter Apathy In India

 

The popular reason for voter apathy in India or in any democracy is erosion of public trust in election process and institutions which is a deterring factor to cast vote. According to the report by The Economist, 2021 on the Democracy Index, India has been categorized as a flawed democracy, where the key parameters of assessment where electoral process and pluralism, functioning of government, political participation, political culture and civil liberties.

 

According to (IDEA, 2023) India is facing significant declines in credible elections and free political parties which is a prominent reason for generating voting apathy amongst the public as it inculcates mistrust and value for voting decreases. Rising misinformation campaigns and instances of hate speech is contributing significantly to declining voter turnout in India. There have been reports of how the ruling party has been benefitted from leveraging social media platforms such as Facebook and propagating hate speech, hence gaining an unfair advantage in 2019 election.[8] The Election Commission used the provisions of the Indian Penal Code and Representation of People’s Act in order to regulate hate speech during election as it didn’t come under its authority to do so[9].

The youth in India are heavily exposed to social media and have easy access to internet, misinformation and difficulty in accessing credible information, the lack of knowledge and sense of disillusionment on the political system results in hindering active participation of youth in electoral process.

 

The lack of transparency in election proceedings has resulted in people feeling a sense of powerlessness and associating an individual’s vote with a lower value with no substantial impact on the outcome. “This feeling of disempowerment is especially prominent amongst youth who are new to the political process”[10].

 

When it comes to voter apathy amongst youth it is important to address the problem of ‘Gerontocracy’ in India, i.e.  significantly older leaders governing a nation with most adult youth population[11]. The average age of an MP in India is 54 years and out of the 543 seats only 12% are below the age of 40. The lack of representation of youth in legislative and executive bodies, is a contributing factor towards disengagement of youth in politics.

 

Lack of political awareness plays a pivotal role in voting apathy, the complexity of comprehending political predicaments is a decisive factor in decreasing voter turnout. Not being part of the voter’s list and not having a voter’s ID is also reason for decreased voter turnout, many people find it difficult to navigate the procedures of bureaucracy through online platforms. Lack of political interest, especially in the urban areas disinterest is of high levels, as they don’t feel the government political system impacts them directly and the educated and financially stable groups don’t benefit out of the welfare policies initiated by the government, from a rational perspective it remarked as a popular reason for declining voter turnout in the cities.

 

Solutions For Transforming Voter Apathy To Voter Action

 

A lower voter turnout can result upon high risks on democracy and pave for power imbalances within the system. India’s youth population itself serves a potential group capable of influencing policies and transforming India’s political trajectory. Active measures have to be taken in order to promote youth engagement in electoral process and politics.

1)    Election Awareness and Civic Education: This plays central to countering voter apathy, to inform citizens about the importance and implications of voting, it’s imperative that it starts from a very young age. Hence the Election Commission of India and the Ministry of Education has signed an MoU to introduce electoral literacy in schools throughout the country[12]. The National Council of Educational Research Training (NCERT) will incorporate chapters on electoral literacy to foster political engagement amongst youth. Syllabus on voter education and electoral literacy will also be included in university syllabus and inclusion of activities that will enhance electoral participation and fostering democratic values. Effective implementation of the Election Commission of India’s Systematic Voters Education and Electoral Participation (SVEEP) in schools and colleges

2)    Improving Transparency and Accountability: It is imperative to build public trust on democratic institutions to have higher levels of political engagement from people. Reduce levels of corruption, engaging in free and fair elections. The Election Commission must be given more flexibility in regulating election practices, and campaigns.

3)    Active Engagement of Youth in politics: Increase representation of youth in politics and focus on more youth-centric polices to cater to the needs and aspirations of the youth in the country. Introducing youth councils and platforms for the youth to voice out their opinions which will inculcate political interest and engagement.

4)    Inclusion in Voter’s list: Developing an integral mechanism to register in the voter’s list and to provide voter’s ID to every citizen upon turning 18.

 

Conclusion

Participation of citizens play a crucial role in sustaining democracies, declining voter turnout and exacerbating sense of voting apathy amongst people must be countered with the active political engagement of youth through education , increased role of the Election Commission in ensuring free and fair elections and creating an inclusive political space for youth to be involved in governance and policy formulation.

 

Bibliography

 

APAC News Network. (2023, November 3). Election Commission and Education Ministry sign MoU to combat voter apathy amongst Indian youth, NCERT textbooks to include electoral literacy content. APAC Digital News Network. https://apacnewsnetwork.com/2023/11/election-commission-and-education-ministry-sign-mou-to-combat-voter-apathy-amongst-indian-youth-ncert-textbooks-to-include-electoral-literacy-content/

 

B.Pac. (2023, April 17). From voter apathy to Voter action - Election Awareness -BPAC. B.PAC. https://bpac.in/voter-apathy-in-karnataka/

 

Desk, W. (2023, July 18). Political apathy spreads from parents to adolescent children. The Week. https://www.theweek.in/news/sci-tech/2023/07/18/political-apathy-spreads-from-parents-to-adolescent-children.html

 

ET Bureau. (2022, December 9). Election Comission to launch campaign to check “urban apathy.” The Economic Times. https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/election-comission-to-launch-campaign-to-check-urban-apathy/articleshow/96119032.cms?from=mdr

 

Ewe, K. (2023, December 28). The Ultimate Election Year: All the Elections Around the World in 2024. <i>TIME. https://time.com/6550920/world-elections-2024/

 

Harsha L, Gaurishankar S, Harsha L, & Gaurishankar S. (2023, October 28). What needs to be done to get more young Indians to vote? Deccan Herald. https://www.deccanherald.com/opinion/what-needs-to-be-done-to-get-more-young-indians-to-vote-2746057

 

IDEA. (2023). The state of democracy in Asia & the Pacific – The Global State of Democracy 2023. https://www.idea.int/gsod/2023/chapters/asia-pacific/

 

IDEA Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance. (2021). Asia and the Pacific | IDEA Global State of Democracy Report. https://www.idea.int/gsod-2021/asia-pacific

 

Jha, R. (2023, January 16). Voter apathy in municipal elections. orfonline.org. https://www.orfonline.org/expert-speak/voter-apathy-in-municipal-elections

 

Kothapalli, T. (2023, August 18). The Youth Dilemma in Indian Politics. Kautilya School of Public Policy. https://kautilya.org.in/the-youth-dilemma-in-indian-politics/

 

Kumar, S. (2019, October 15). Young country, old leaders: While politics engages large numbers of youth, it does not serve their interests. Times of India Blog. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/blogs/toi-edit-page/young-country-old-leaders-while-politics-engages-large-numbers-of-youth-it-does-not-serve-their-interests/

 

Kumar, S., & Banerjee, S. (2017). Low levels of electoral participation in metropolitan cities on JSTOR. Economic and Political Weekly, 52(45). https://www.jstor.org/stable/26697846?seq=1

 

Sanchez, G. R., & Middlemass, K. (2022, July 26). Misinformation is eroding the public’s confidence in democracy. Brookings. https://www.brookings.edu/articles/misinformation-is-eroding-the-publics-confidence-in-democracy/

 

Solijonov, A. (2016) 'Voter Turnout trends around the World,' International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assitance - IDEA[Preprint].https://www.idea.int/sites/default/files/publications/voter-turnout-trends-around-the-world.pdf.


The Economist. (2021, February 2). Global democracy has a very bad year. The Economist. https://www.economist.com/graphic-detail/2021/02/02/global-democracy-has-a-very-bad-year

 

Troopel. (2023, December 8). The pivotal role of youth voters in shaping democracy: Youth in Politics. https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/pivotal-role-youth-voters-shaping-democracy-politics-troopel-india-g6w9f


[1] Ewe, K. (2023, December 28). The Ultimate Election Year: All the Elections Around the World in 2024. TIME. https://time.com/6550920/world-elections-2024/

 

[2] Desk, W. (2023, July 18). Political apathy spreads from parents to adolescent children. The Week. https://www.theweek.in/news/sci-tech/2023/07/18/political-apathy-spreads-from-parents-to-adolescent-children.html

 

[3] Kumar, S., & Banerjee, S. (2017). Low levels of electoral participation in metropolitan cities on JSTOR. Economic and Political Weekly, 52(45). https://www.jstor.org/stable/26697846?seq=1

[4] ibid

[5] Jha, R. (2023, January 16). Voter apathy in municipal elections. orfonline.org. https://www.orfonline.org/expert-speak/voter-apathy-in-municipal-elections

[6][6] Kothapalli, T. (2023, August 18). The Youth Dilemma in Indian Politics. Kautilya School of Public Policy. https://kautilya.org.in/the-youth-dilemma-in-indian-politics/

 

[7] Harsha L, Gaurishankar S, Harsha L, & Gaurishankar S. (2023, October 28). What needs to be done to get more young Indians to vote? Deccan Herald. https://www.deccanherald.com/opinion/what-needs-to-be-done-to-get-more-young-indians-to-vote-2746057

[8] IDEA. (2023). The state of democracy in Asia & the Pacific – The Global State of Democracy 2023. https://www.idea.int/gsod/2023/chapters/asia-pacific/

 

[9] IDEA. (2023). The state of democracy in Asia & the Pacific – The Global State of Democracy 2023. https://www.idea.int/gsod/2023/chapters/asia-pacific/

[10] B.Pac. (2023, April 17). From voter apathy to Voter action - Election Awareness -BPAC. B.PAC. https://bpac.in/voter-apathy-in-karnataka/

[11] Kothapalli, T. (2023, August 18). The Youth Dilemma in Indian Politics. Kautilya School of Public Policy. https://kautilya.org.in/the-youth-dilemma-in-indian-politics/

 

[12] APAC News Network. (2023, November 3). Election Commission and Education Ministry sign MoU to combat voter apathy amongst Indian youth, NCERT textbooks to include electoral literacy content. APAC Digital News Network. https://apacnewsnetwork.com/2023/11/election-commission-and-education-ministry-sign-mou-to-combat-voter-apathy-amongst-indian-youth-ncert-textbooks-to-include-electoral-literacy-content/

 

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