Do Pakistanis vote independently or do groups decide for them? A case study in Lahore

1200px-Islamabad_Election_2013.jpgWikimedia user Khalid Mahmood

By Sherazam Tiwana

Effective democracies require citizens who think for themselves when deciding who to vote for. A larger number of individual voters – who make decisions out of their own volition – most likely indicates a progressive electorate with greater information about the candidate and the democratic process. On the other hand, collective voting – when voters cast their ballots in a group – is usually dictated by a household head or leader of a local group. This may indicate either apathy towards the political system or dynastic family structures/ethnic mobilizations influencing the vote.

Is voting in Pakistan more individual or collective? A study[1] of voting patterns by the Institute of Development and Economic Alternatives (IDEAS) provides a snapshot through a survey of voters in four provincial constituencies (PP146, 147, 148, 149) of urban Lahore.[2] By collecting information on gender, age, and income, the study also analyses the factors that determine whether voting is individual or collective. To detect a difference in voting patterns between national and local level politics, the survey gathered respondents’ voting decisions for the 2013 general election and the 2015 local government election.

Here are the main takeaways from the survey:

More people voted individually for the local government election rather than the general election, and family has the biggest influence on voting decisions

51.8 percent of respondents who voted in the general election said they made their decision individually, which was only slightly more than the 46.5 percent who voted collectively (Figure 1).

Figure 1

Interestingly, both individual and collective voting decisions are influenced most by voters’ families. For those who voted individually, a very large majority of 83.7 percent said they consulted with their family before voting. The remaining 16 percent said they consulted with biradari (caste), neighbors, friends, or others.

A resounding 68.7 percent of collective voters said their ballots were influenced by their families (Figure 2). 14.4 percent said they voted with their biradari and 10.5 percent said they voted the same way as their mohallah (neighborhood).

Figure 2Voting2.jpgFor the 2015 local election, there was a much wider difference between those who voted individually and collective voters. 54.2 percent said they voted individually, while 44.4 percent said they voted collectively.

 Figure 3

The rest of the picture is very similar to the general election, in which 83 percent of respondents who voted individually said they consulted their family. For the respondents who voted collectively, 64.2 percent voted the same way as their family, 15.4 percent voted with their mohallah, and 13.3 percent voted with their biradari.

There are two possible explanations for why the local government election had more individual voters. First, constituents could have a keen understanding of the high stakes involved with choosing a local representative, making them seek out better information and vote individually. Second, constituents may have greater information about their local candidate already, putting them in a better position to vote individually.

It is worth noting that the large share of respondents seeking influence from their family in urban Lahore is starkly different from a more rural region such as Sargodha, where a much larger percentage of voters seek information from their biradari, or a local leader. This could indicate that families are more influential in urban settings.

Gender: Women vote more individually

For the 2013 general election, women voted more individually than men by a small amount. 49.8 percent of male respondents voted individually compared to 54.1 percent female respondents. 47.4 percent of men voted collectively compared to 45.5 percent of women (Figure 4).

Figure 4

The gender gap in both individual and collective voting was much wider in the 2015 local government election (Figure 5). 49.9 percent of men voted individually compared to a much greater 58.9 percent of women. 47.9 percent of men voted collectively compared to 40.5 percent of women.

Figure 5Voting5.jpg

This could indicate that women either seek out more information than men about their representatives, or that women are not as involved in political campaigns as men and hence are not swayed by local political group leaders to vote a certain way.

Age: Young people voted more individually, especially in the local government election

For the 2013 general election, the survey found an almost equal share of individual and collective voters aged 35 and above, but a much higher share of individual voters among younger people (Figure 6).

Figure 6Voting6.jpg

54 percent of respondents between the ages of 18-34 voted individually compared to a lesser 44 percent who voted collectively.

The individual/collective divide between different age groups was much greater for the 2015 local election (Figure 7). 58.3 percent of voters aged 18 to 34 said they voted individually compared to 41.1 percent who reported voting collectively – a 17.2 percent difference. For the 35 to 60 age group, 53.1 percent voted individually compared to 45.2 percent voting collectively. Only among respondents above 60 was the amount of individual and collective voters almost the same.

Figure 7

This shows that the youth vote is more informed and cast on an individual basis. This could be due to increased interest in the political sphere for the youth from higher media exposure, or a better democratic process with local government elections with more information dissemination about voting.

Income: Wealthier people voted more individually

For the 2013 general election, about 10 percent of respondents shifted from collective to individual voting as their incomes grew from the lowest to highest bracket (Figure 8).[3] Individual voting increased from 48.3 percent for people who spend, on average, less than Rs 30,000 a year to 58 percent for those who spend between Rs 40,000 and 250,000 annually.

Figure 8

We see almost the exact same effect for the 2015 local government election. Individual voting is at 51.3 percent for the poorest respondents and 59.7 percent for the richest.

The implication of this is either that income has a positive correlation with information, which enables individual decision-making and voting, or voters becomes less dependent on others as their income increases and they make decisions independently.

Final thoughts

One of the primary outcomes that I observed throughout this study is that increased information always supports an informed outcome. An informed electorate is always in a better position to make an accurate judgement. This makes it important to create a political environment where there is greater symmetry in information between the electorate, stakeholders, and policy makers.

Sherazam Tiwana is a research assistant at the Institute of Development and Economic Alternatives (IDEAS).

[1] The study was led by Ali Cheema, IDEAS Senior Research Fellow; Shandana Mohmand, Research Fellow at the Institute of Development Studies; and Asad Liaqat, PhD Candidate at Harvard University.

[2] The section was framed to first ask the respondent whether they had voted in the respective election. If their answer was in the affirmative they were asked whether their decision to vote was an individual or collective decision. If it was a collective decision, they were asked who they had voted with. If it was an individual decision, they were asked whether they had consulted anyone before voting and if so, who?

[3] For our survey, we used three income brackets: Rs (Pakistani Rupees) 0-30,000, 30-40,000, and 40-250,000.

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