Studies in Comparative International Development

, Volume 47, Issue 4, pp 389–410 | Cite as

Why the Poor Vote in India: “If I Don’t Vote, I Am Dead to the State”

  • Amit AhujaEmail author
  • Pradeep Chhibber


Our empirical research in India shows the poor and the non-poor report different motivations for voting. The poor say they turn out to vote because it is their right while the non-poor report they vote because they expect material benefits from the state, some kind of access to the state, or because voting is their civic duty. We attribute the different reasons for voting offered by the poor and non-poor to their different relationships with the state. Unlike the non-poor, the poor mostly report the state mistreats or ignores them yet makes every effort on Election Day to ensure they are treated equally. The recognition the state grants to the poor on Election Day leads them to view voting as a valued right, one that gives them a rare chance to associate with those who govern as equals. The evidence in this paper was drawn from 30 focus groups with a total of 445 participants and 150 open-ended interviews conducted across Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, and Uttar Pradesh and three state and national-level surveys.


Vote Participation Poor State Elections Rights Patronage Duty India 



For helpful comments, we would like to thank Irfan Nooruddin, Allen Hicken, Kent Jennings, Stuart Kazdon, Ashutosh Varshney, Jane Menon, Nancy Bermeo, and participants at the Comparative Politics Workshop and the Inequalities in India Conference at University of Michigan. Discussions at the South Asia colloquium at Berkeley, particularly remarks by Nafisa Akbar, Matthew Baxter, Francesca Jensensius, Dann Naseemullah, Susan Ostermann, and Vasundhara Sirnate made this a better paper. We owe a special thanks to Matthew Baxter for suggesting the title. The suggestions made by two anonymous reviewers and Xavier Callahan's editorial remarks were especially useful. All remaining errors and omissions are ours.


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of CaliforniaSanta BarbaraUSA
  2. 2.University of CaliforniaBerkeleyUSA

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