In The Armchair

Indian Elections: A Disappointing Lack of Information

Posted in India by Armchair Guy on May 20, 2009

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One disappointing characteristic of the incredible Indian electoral process is the lack of information on the results.  What makes people vote for or against a particular candidate?  What are the major issues people care about?  What matters to people in various parts of the country?  Do parliamentarians have high approval ratings among their own constituents?  Are people voting for policies or parties?  Do people like the party they voted for, or just dislike all the others?  Such information is simply never gathered.  This non-gathering of information has been going on for ages.

In countries like the USA, a lot of such information comes from the media.  Unfortunately, the media isn’t quite doing its job in India.  Over the years, we’ve seen what amounts to idle speculation in the media about these things.  Journalists say something based on their limited contact with the public or their prejudices, and make predictions.  Then all the journalists get proven wrong when the elections actually happen, shake their heads, say things are hard to predict, and again make equally bad predictions the next year.

What are the reasons for this lack of information?  I can think of multiple possible reasons, though I have no idea which of these are the real ones.

First, resources.  You need money and trained manpower.  I imagine money flows freely for the Indian media; it certainly doesn’t seem like they are facing a funds crunch.  Trained manpower would be more of a problem.  They need people who know how to ask questions in a neutral, non-leading fashion.  I think it’s  mostly a manpower problem: it’s hard to muster the massive resources required when the channels are already in a frenzy and stretched to their limits during election season.  And if they do get the required manpower, it would have to be on a temporary basis, which implies a massive recruitment exercise for temps at the beginning of each election season.

Second, audience interest.  In politically participatory countries like the USA, television audiences have an appetite for analyses based on such data.  It is well-known that political participation is low in India, even though a very large number of people vote. So maybe there isn’t much incentive for the news channels to gather such data.  However, I’d think it’s part of the media’s responsibility to educate audiences and bring about greater involvement in the political debates.

Third, journalistic standards are disappointingly low in India.  Newspapers often can’t be bothered to perform even basic proofreading, let alone verifying the facts or collecting evidence.  A general attitude of apathy among our journalists may also be to blame.

Finally, does it make sense to blame it all on the media?  Perhaps such things should be part of the Election Commission’s responsibilities, with guaranteed independent funding.

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