A Tale of Two Democracies: How do the Indians and their American Counterparts Vote?
Issue 21 | November 16, 2020
“Democracy is based upon the conviction, that there are extraordinary possibilities in ordinary people”
Within a short span, two of the world’s most looked upon democracies viz, India and the United States of America (US) have gone to polls with voters having diverse expectations from the next elected government. While a victory for the Democrats in the US has refused President Trump a second term, rekindling a fresh ray of hope for the Americans and prospective immigrants regarding jobs, better response to the pandemic and healing the American society, Indians have reposed their faith in the BJP led government under the leadership of Prime Minister Modi by re-electing them, with the hope of profiting from the leadership’s plan of making India a manufacturing hub [ET], which might be the solution to India’s rising unemployment. Though the United States happens to be a relatively mature democracy, both India and the US have continued to grow in different ways, and the former, irrespective of being a third of the latter’s age has given stiff competition to the US in a lot of avenues such as defence modernisation, institutional reforms and representation of women in governance. However, the primary determinants which decide elections in the two democracies will be discerned in the following paragraphs.
Starting with the economy, which was one of the fundamental factors for both the elections, the recently concluded US elections showed an inclination towards the Democrats as opposed to Republicans. Though the immediate results have indicated President-elect Biden received a little over 50% of the total votes, a survey concluded just before the elections stated 79% of Americans believed the economy was in a bad shape and that the current administration wasn’t taking necessary steps to put it back on track [Pew]. Discerning the data obtained further, 88% of the Republican supporters viewed the economy as an important issue as compared to Gun control, abortion and BLM, which is considerably higher than those who voted for democrats, who placed economy below BLM, Gun control & abortions at 65% [Pew]. When we look at similar trends in India, voters during the 2019 general elections stressed more on jobs, which is only a small part of what the economy constitutes. A survey found that 47% of the total voters stressed on the importance of employment generation [The Hindu]. Though the national average depicted is lower from the standards of a developing economy, the trend shows the importance of jobs for voters was significantly higher in the northern and north-eastern regions of India.
Though the US boasts of being a mature and undoubtedly is the oldest democracy, social issues diverse in nature have troubled the residents from time to time, most significant among them being discrimination towards people of colour, which has recently caused the Black Lives Matters (BLM) protests across the US. Out of the 60% voters who consider the BLM to be a significant development towards bringing out racial equality, 76% sided with the Democrats during the current elections [PEW]. On the other hand, India being a diverse society and often called as a “cradle of races” has found it difficult to bring about equality among castes, irrespective of numerous constitutional provisions. A major survey concluded after every national election in India suggests caste has been a driving factor for voting trends, though there might be other issues like health care, domestic violence, public transport and potable drinking water amongst others . [Rohini Pande, Harvard]. This research further suggested how the said factor reduces the ability of the voters to consider important factors which plays a direct role in weakening the elected body. A further dangerous trend which has not seen a downward curve yet is the profiling of candidates under the veil of casteism to hide their criminal records.
While there might be stark differences between the two societies, information campaigns have played a crucial role in the US elections since decades which hasn’t been in the Indian election scenario, even remotely. Though people across India might not be in a position to appreciate the importance of information regarding candidates, the Supreme Court has recently observed that voting being a form of expression, which is a constitutional right, must be supplemented with information about a candidate’s criminal records. This would allow them to make a well-thought decision and strengthen the elected body while doing the same [Public Interest Foundation v. UOI (2019) 3 SCC 244]. Despite large-scale awareness drives being far from reality, even regarding rights and social issues, similar exercises have been carried out in the North-East, Uttar-Pradesh, Rajasthan etc. which not only allowed voters to arrive at a well-thought decision, but significantly increased the voter turnout in the subsequent assembly and national elections. While considering a US like outcome would be outrageous, to say the least, the same cannot remain an excuse for not initiating such exercises, if India wishes to get the title of a “Matured Democracy” apart from being the largest one.
“Small differences in a system of great power can have enormous consequences”