Voter Turnout and Identity

Scientific American Mind (dated Jan 10th) has a piece titled, “Voter Turnout Is Tied to Sense of Identity.” Unfortunately it is behind a subscription wall and therefore unavailable to me. But the short summary (reproduced here below the fold) is sufficient for us to get the general idea.

Boosting voter turnout could be as simple as making individuals see voting as part of who they are rather than as something they do. For the 2008 presidential election, the turnout rate was about 96 percent among registered voters who first filled out a survey asking “How important is it to you to be a voter?” compared with about 82 percent for those who were asked “How important is it to you to vote?” The study, led by Christopher Bryan of Stanford University, was recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA. “We offered people the prospect of claiming a desirable identity,” Bryan says. “That’s a very powerful thing.”

The distinction between voter as an identity and voting as a behavior that a person chooses to exhibit is interesting and consequential. If the goal is to simply have more people vote, then it makes sense to push people to identify themselves as voters and not simply as people who vote when appropriate. But I believe that more than making more people vote, the important thing is to push people to become involved in the democratic process — which goes beyond mere voting, and at a minimum means informed voting.

I do believe that identity matters and the exhibited behavior during voting is consistent with it. That is why the political parties bank on identity politics. But as I mentioned in my previous post, we have several identities. Which identity should be relevant to us when we participate in the democratic process depends on our personal preferences and the set of political choices we have. If one political party promises goodies to my specific ethnic or religious group, I will of course use my ethnic or religious identity to make my decision.

Unfortunately, the Congress Party invented and perfected “vote bank politics” — the practice of handing out goodies based on caste and religion — and therefore forced people to make their religious or caste identity the most relevant. Other parties quickly adopted the same strategy to compete in the race.

This has to be countered. We have to make people realize that it is in their self-interest to identify themselves as honest citizens of the country, and thus choose to vote for those who represent good governance. If a sufficient number of voters do this, political parties will respond appropriately.

Let me plug the “United Voters of India” idea once again. Back in August last year, I had two posts introducing the idea: Part 1, and Part 2. I hope you will take a few minutes to read it. And if you like the idea, perhaps you would consider visiting “” and lending your support. Thank you.

Interestingly, the idea of voting en bloc is fairly intuitive, and others are also considering it. The Mumbai newspaper DNA has a short report (11th Jan), “Civic polls: Societies get together to vote en bloc

Some housing societies and resident associations are planning to vote en masse for candidates promising to resolve their issues.

Thus far, candidates banked upon slum voters or communal vote banks to get elected. This also meant that they could ignore complaints made by sections of voters outside these vote-banks.

If the Congress wants to continue playing vote-bank politics, I suppose it is appropriate to counter them with vote banks.

Author: Atanu Dey


3 thoughts on “Voter Turnout and Identity”

  1. Voter, vote, voted, votified, votification, votive, votaceous, whatever. You still need to dismember my hand to get my hand to vote. Compulsory voting, eh? Within days lucrative businesses will crop up, I will pay someone 150 rupees and the records will show that I have voted.


  2. The identity musings of a man who did dismiss his voluntarily adopted citizenship as “a piece of paper” can’t be taken as having any sincerity.


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