Why do voters continue to vote in corrupt politicians?

Karnataka Elections 2018: If corruption is such a problem, why don’t citizens simply vote such politicians out of office instead of juggling with them every five years?

Written by Ushy Mohan Das | Updated: May 10, 2018 1:24:39 pm
Corrupt politicians in Karnataka Assembly Elections 2018 If voters want clean politicians then why do they vote for corruption? (Express Illustration: C R Sasikumar)

Karnataka, hope you will brave the lines and vote on May 12 in the 224 constituencies of the Legislative Assembly. For the state’s 49,682,357 voters, this is your chance to cast your vote and make a difference. So mark your calendar and ensure you exercise this right on Saturday.

Corruption presents one of the greatest barriers to economic growth and institutional development in India, but we continue to elect corrupt politicians across India. Even when you look at the larger issue of criminal charges against politicians, just in Karnataka, about 28 per cent of the candidates or 391 of them to be precise, face criminal charges, according to a recent report by the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR). This includes 254 candidates with serious charges like attempt to murder and crime against women.

I am surprised that voters sometimes knowingly vote for politically corrupt candidates, implying that making voters aware of political corruption is not always an effective strategy. It is possible that voters fail to punish corrupt politicians because they lack alternatives, and not because they lack information about corruption. The faces of the prospective CMs discussed below already have numerous allegations levelled against them. The comparisons are of being relatively clean.

Congress: Siddaramaiah, after a five-year tenure, comes across as someone who has completely failed in good development and infrastructure. Over the past year, he has done all sorts of popular schemes like the Indira Canteen and people are least bother to notice the lack of progress.

BJP: Yeddyurappa is faced with many allegations and even less progress in development. The BJP president should seriously get some good and clean hand guy for CM candidate if BJP wants a lead in Karnataka. But it seems they are banking on PM Narendra Modi for that.

Janata Dal: H D Kumaraswamy, comparatively, has had a less dirty hand in politics and has some development in his tenure to showcase. He can be kingmaker but not the king as it is a regional party with less seats in Karnataka.

This begs the question. If corruption is such a problem, why don’t citizens simply vote such politicians out of office instead of juggling with them every five years? Either voters lack information about corrupt behaviour and therefore unknowingly support a corrupt politician, or they knowingly support a corrupt politician because of his performance in other areas.

The contrast between how people in Karnataka vote and not, may come down to the type of information the voters typically encounter about corruption versus so called development. Most voters come across stories about corruption that describe the scale of the problem but don’t point to specific individuals, and, coming from partisan sources and social media, well before an election, the news is unlikely to change a voter’s mind.

I am waiting to see the degree to which voters support or punish corrupt politicians and the reasons for the same. This will substantially deepen understanding of the complex trade-offs that voters face, and will also help understand when transparency campaigns are likely to remedy political corruption. Politicians, after all, are likely to adapt to increased transparency by encouraging voters to accept corruption as a tradeoff. By examining these tradeoffs, we will gain an insight into politicians’ likely strategies in response to transparency.

The question remains: If voters want clean politicians then why do they vote for corruption?

Dr Ushy Mohan Das is a doctor by profession and an academic by passion.

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