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Is India unique in having higher voter turnout among the poor than the middle class and rich?

- September 29, 2012

Perry Anderson writes of “a truly distinguishing feature of Indian democracy – one that sets it apart from any other society in the world”:

In India alone, the poor form not just the overwhelming majority of the electorate, but vote in larger numbers than the better-off. Everywhere else, without exception, the ratio of electoral participation is the reverse.

Is that true? I had no idea. I’ve looked at some statistics comparing votes for left and right by income in different countries, but I’ve never thought about comparative turnout.

Unlike in the U.S., political parties in India make strong direct appeals to poor voters. But I imagine this would be the case in many low-income societies, yet according to Anderson it is only in India that poor vote at higher rates than middle class and rich. I’m sure my comparativist colleagues understand this better…

Before posting, I ran this past Monkey Cage comparative politics expert Josh Tucker, who sent along sone references on the general topic (but not India in particular):

The idea that the rich vote at higher rates than the poor is consistent across a wide range of countries. The article that comes to mind is one by Bing Powell:

Powell, G. Bingham. 1986. “American Voting Turnout in Comparative Perspective.” American Political Science Review 80, no. 1 (March 1986): 17-43. (J)

But that is definitely OECD countries.

You might also take a look at:

Franklin, Mark, “Electoral Participation,” p.216-235, in LeDuc, Lawrence, Richard G. Niemi, and Pippa Norris. 1996. Comparing democracies : elections and voting in global perspective. Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Sage Publications.

although I’m sure there is some later edition of this.

The Russ Dalton “Citizen Politics” series would likely have something on this as well, although I’m guessing all of this is heavily slanted towards Europe.