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Diverse India 2019: Populism, Campaigning & Influence

Sat, August 31, 8:00 to 9:30am, Hilton, Gunston East

Session Submission Type: Full Paper Panel

Session Description

India’s vast ethno-linguistic diversity is the reason why there is neither a single national party system nor a single national media system across the country’s 29 states and 7 union territories. The country’s ethno-linguistically-bordered states continue to emerge (Kumar, 2011). What variables influence party support across such diverse settings? Are Indian voters split fundamentally along the cleavages of caste and religion or do parties also compete on issues, populist appeals, and through the personalities of their leaders? In what ways do local contexts matter? This panel brings together papers based on comparable survey data, and from media content, to discuss similarities and differences in the dynamics of populist appeals, campaigning and influence on party support and vote choice in 2019 across a number of India’s different electoral contexts.

Indians voted in nine phases in 2014, when a small international team launched the India Election Studies (IES) project, with a first panel wave in the field in late March in advance of Delhi’s April 10 vote, followed by a post-election wave completed in April, along with a post-election survey in Bengaluru, which voted a week later. All votes were counted on live TV on one day in mid-May, well after all nine phases of voting had ended, with no information on exit polls or results permitted until the nationally televised vote count. India’s phased voting, and prohibition on publication of exit polls after each phase, is a boon for election researchers as it largely eliminates a problem that plagues election studies in many countries -- bandwagon effects on the reported vote question. The original international and multidisciplinary IES team, with its International Advisory Board, quickly expanded to include faculty and funding from Japan and Singapore for state level election studies in Bihar 2015 and West Bengal 2016, and for 2019 includes faculty in seven countries: India, Austria, Japan, Singapore, New Zealand, the UK and the U.S. The IES aims to bring best practices to election study development and build a generation of students and scholars interested in campaign research methods, and began with a Government of India Advanced Networks course at IIT-Guwahati in 2016 on campaigning and influence. The expanded IES project also aims to generate new knowledge about campaigning and influence in India’s diverse subnational contexts and compare our findings from previous elections with 2019, for which we will have a three-wave face-to-face panel in Delhi that has advantages over two-waves when discussing causality, and two-wave panels in Bengaluru and Bihar, and an innovative campaign wave survey in West Bengal.

In 2019, an estimated 350 Lok Sabha districts will be ripe for digital campaigning compared with 160 in 2014. The rapid growth of mobile and smartphone use in India since 2015 is changing the way people bank, shop, learn and interact socially and politically. It is also changing the way India’s politicians and consultants are thinking about campaigning and influence. In 2014, nearly a quarter of our respondents remained undecided until very late in the campaign. This is a high percentage at such a late stage in comparison with many other nations that have been experiencing electoral volatility, and suggests that the events and information of the official campaign period actually mattered for many, which was also found in Canada by Fournier, Cutler, Soroka, Stolle, and Bélanger (2013).

The IES project has resulted in more than a dozen conference papers, publications and work in progress. Some key findings from previous research on India such as Chandra (2009) or Thachil (2014) and others, and new findings from our IES project surveys, are cited in the abstracts that follow and therefore not listed here due to space constraints. Our findings provide support for our general hypothesis for 2019, that the issues and personalities made prominent in the campaign may influence voter perceptions of the salience of issues, provide cause for changing evaluations of performance of leaders and parties and, ultimately, vote choice.


Chandra, Kanchan. 2009. “Why voters in patronage democracies split their tickets: Strategic voting for ethnic parties.” Electoral Studies, 28: 21-32.

Fournier, Patrick; Cutler, Fred; Soroka, Stuart; Stolle, Dietlind and Bélanger, Éric. 2013. Riding the Orange Wave: Leadership, Values, Issues, and the 2011 Canadian Election. Canadian Journal of Political Science, 46(4), 863]

Jaffrelot, C. 2003. India’s Silent Revolution: The rise of the lower casts in north India.
London: C. Hurst.

Kumar, A. 2011. The Making of a Small State: Populist Social Mobilization and the Hindi Press in the Uttarakhand Movement. New Delhi: Orient Blackswan (formerly Orient Longman).

Thachil, Tariq. 2014. Elite Parties and Poor Voters: Theory and Evidence from India American Political Science Review 108 (2), 454-477.

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