Ethnic Politics and Urban Voting Behavior in India: Explaining Variation in Electoral Support for the Bharatiya Janata Party, 1999-2009
Berland Kaul, Allison
Pearson, Margaret M.
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This dissertation focuses on urban voting behavior in India, and explores the factors affecting voter support for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), one of two major parties in India, and the only ethnic party that competes at the national level. How do we understand the rise of this ethnic party to become the second most electorally successful party in India? Why do voters vote for this ethnic party, which has been linked in the past with episodes of ethnic violence? Existing explanations have focused on ethnic factors or programmatic factors to explain voter support for the BJP. I argue that there is a need to understand the way in which both ethnic interests and programmatic interests explain voter support for the BJP. This dissertation puts forward a theory of voting behavior, Ethnically Mediated Retrospective Voting (ERV), which posits the conditions under which ethnic interests and programmatic interests influence voters' political choices, as a means of explaining the nature of voter support for an ethnic party. ERV theorizes the way in which changes in the level of ethnic conflict influences the political salience of ethnic interests, and changes resulting from economic growth and economic reforms influences programmatic demands by voters. The mechanisms of ERV together posit different generalized scenarios of voting behavior to explain voter support for an ethnic party in different socio-economic conditions. The theory is tested through an investigation of urban voting behavior in two locations, Delhi and Gujarat, across three national elections (1999, 2004 and 2009), and includes over 70 interviews of voters in the cities of Ahmedabad and New Delhi. This study finds that ethnic interests and retrospective programmatic interests are both important factors in explaining voter support for the BJP over space and time. Under conditions of a high level of perceived ethnic conflict, ethnic interests increase in salience in voters' political choices. Second, under conditions of strong economic growth, programmatic demands increase in salience in voters' political choices. As a result, different socio-economic conditions impact the relative influence of ethnic and programmatic interests in explaining overall voter support for an ethnic party. Through an examination of the way in which both ethnic interests and programmatic interests influence voter support for the Bharatiya Janata party, this dissertation broadens our understanding of voting behavior and the factors influencing voter support for an ethnic party in a rapidly developing country context.