By Sanjay Kumar & Pranav Gupta
Jobs and education opportunities for the youth have been one of the foremost issues Prime Minister Modi has raised in his rallies in Bihar. He has stressed how the lack of opportunities forces Bihar’s youth to migrate. Many believe the BJP’s focus on young voters is part of a larger strategy of drawing voters from across the social spectrum and building a cross-caste coalition. It seems to be making an effort to cut a slice of the vote among communities that have traditionally not voted for it, such as the Yadavs, by appealing to young voters from these groups.
Some political commentators believe the young voters are so significant in number that they could determine the verdict. We use data from various sources such as the Census, NSSO and studies by Lokniti-CSDS to provide a broad overview on the role of young voters of Bihar. We believe that most commentators are overestimating the impact young voters would have on the verdict. First, young voters are not as large in numbers as is being stated by various parties and analysts. Second, the youth alone can’t be the deciding factor, as their vote is almost as divided as that of voters of other age groups and they don’t form a core base for any party.
As per the 2011 census, the youth (age 18-25) constitute close to one-sixth (15.5 percent) of the country’s population. Inter-state differences are quite minor and the proportion of youth in the population is almost similar across states. In fact, Bihar has a relatively low proportion at around 13.7 percent. Census figures give an indication of the population of different age groups but may not be indicative of the age profile of voters. The table shows that less than 3 out of 10 registered electors in the state are less than 30 years old. The largest chunk of the electorate is in the age group 30-39. The age profile of the rolls often differs from the population due to lower registration among youth. The data in the table is based on electoral rolls as of January 1, 2013. Despite numerous voter registration campaigns over the last few years, we doubt if the profile of the electorate would have changed drastically since 2013.
We also find differences between the age profile of registered voters and those who turned out to vote. Based on the 2014 Lokniti-CSDS NES survey, we estimate that only 21 per cent of those who cast their votes were less than 30 years old. This is over 7 percentage points less than their proportion in the registered electorate. A major reason for this is the high rate of migration from Bihar to other states. S Irudaya Rajan used the 64th round of NSS and estimated that the proportion of Bihar households with at least one migrant is twice the national average — 16 per cent as compared to 8 per cent. Also, more than one-fifth of these migrants are in the age group 20-24. Many migrants would still be registered as voters but not be coming back to vote. It is clear the pool of young voters relative to other age groups is not unusually higher in Bihar than in other states.
Age-based voting patterns also reveal a very intriguing picture in Bihar. In the 2014 Lok Sabha election, the UPA and the JD(U) had similar support across age groups. But we find the BJP and its allies performed better among young voters. The NDA’s vote share among young voters (18-25) was almost 10 percentage points higher than its support among older voters (56 and above). The party got more than 40 per cent of the votes among three age groups — 18-25, 26-35 and 36-45. But less than one-third of older voters voted for the NDA. While we clearly see a stronger preference for the BJP among the young and the middle-aged, there is limited evidence to indicate that different age groups are voting as separate constituencies. Also, within caste groups there are no age-based voting patterns.
We clearly see that the influence of young voters on the verdict is being overestimated. The effort the BJP seems to be putting in to attract them might seem disproportionate to immediate likely gains. But the shift of young voters towards a party may still tilt a close contest between the two alliances. At the moment the election seems to be keenly contested. High support among the youth could give either party a minor vote swing and decisive edge in a neck-and-neck battle.
Sanjay Kumar is prof. and Director, Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, Delhi; Pranav Gupta is researcher, Lokniti-CSDS
This article is part of a series from Lokniti-CSDS that analyses various dimensions of Bihar politics using evidence from surveys conducted by Lokniti over the last two decades