The voting for the 2024 Lok Sabha (LS) election is set to begin this month, with a large number of voters nationwide casting their votes for their preferred candidates and parties. However, historically, the data suggests that there has been a large variation between voter turnout in different states, geographic segments, and classes.

The data from the Election Commission of India (ECI) shows that Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), Bihar, and Uttar Pradesh registered lower voter turnout in the 2019 LS election. In the 1998 LS election, the voter turnout for J&K was 44.2 per cent, but it only increased marginally to 44.9 per cent in the 2019 LS election. Bihar’s voter turnout decreased to 57.3 per cent in the 2019 LS election from 64.6 per cent in the 1998 LS election. Uttar Pradesh saw minimal growth, with the turnout increasing from 55.4 per cent to 59.2 per cent over the given time period.

Head of the Department of Political Science from Maulana Azad National Urdu University, Afroz Alam, explains, “In J&K, low voter turnout has historically been attributed to political turmoil in the valley. Whereas, in states like UP and Bihar, many individuals have migrated to urban cities in search of employment, which can be a reason for lower voting turnout in these states. Additionally, people in these states are more prone to vote in Vidhan Sabha and municipal elections compared to Lok Sabha elections, as they can better identify with local candidates from their own constituencies.”

The ECI data shows West Bengal (WB), Assam, and Andhra Pradesh (AP) were the top three states in India with the highest voter turnout in the 2019 LS election, with 81.7 per cent, 81.6 per cent, and 80.3 per cent, respectively. These states have consistently performed the highest and shown growth in turnout over the last six LS elections. In the 1998 LS election, WB registered a 79.2 per cent voter turnout, Assam registered a 61 per cent voter turnout, and AP registered a 66 per cent voter turnout.

Alam adds, “The level of political consciousness and political aspirations is higher in states like West Bengal and Assam compared to other Indian states, which may be reasons for the higher voter turnout in these particular states.”

According to data from the National Election Survey (NES), in the 2019 LS election, voter turnout was highest in rural areas, followed by towns and cities, with 69 per cent, 65 per cent, and 60 per cent, respectively.

Scholars contend that from 1984 onwards, rural voter turnout surpassed urban turnout, marking a significant shift known as the ‘second democratic upsurge’ in Indian politics.

Vote shares tend to be higher in rural India due to the central role of political power in addressing the needs of communities in these areas. Another reason for the higher turnout in rural areas is that rural voters tend to make collective voting decisions, while urban voters are more individualistic. When a voting decision is made by a group, there’s moral pressure on all members of the group to implement it by voting.

The NES data shows the turnout among the middle class was 70 per cent in the 2019 LS election, the highest among all socioeconomic classes. It was followed by the rich class, lower class, and poor class, with turnout rates of 67 per cent, 66 per cent, and 66 per cent, respectively.

In the 2019 Lok Sabha election, the highest voter turnout in rural areas was recorded among the middle class (72 per cent) and rich class (69 per cent). In town areas, the poor class (63 per cent) and middle class (59 per cent) had the highest voter turnout. Conversely, in cities, the voter turnout was highest among the rich class (70 per cent) and middle class (68 per cent).

The Economic and Political Weekly journal suggests that people from poorer and lower sections, particularly migrants, face exclusion from electoral participation and register lower enrolment rates in the voting system. This is attributed to challenges such as displacement and lack of proper government documents, which hinder their access to the voting franchise in urban metropolitan cities. Additionally, the article notes a transition of lower-class individuals into the middle-class section, which results in slightly higher voter turnout among the middle class in urban areas.