Muslim voters do not vote en bloc or as told to by clerics, contrary to popular perception, and do not vote strategically to defeat the BJP, new evidence from 15 years of voting data shows. The most remarkable thing about the Muslim vote, the researchers argue, is that it is not remarkable at all.
Researchers Rahul Verma of the Department of Political Science at Berkeley University and Pranav Gupta of Lokniti-Centre for the Study of Developing Societies looked at the last 15 years of pre- and post-poll surveys and National Election Studies conducted for three assembly and two Lok Sabha elections in Uttar Pradesh by Lokniti-CSDS to understand voting preferences and views on politics of Muslims and other groups. Their research was published in the Economic & Political Weekly on December 31.
With Muslim vote share for the BJP in single digits, there is a pervasive notion that Muslim voters strategise to defeat the BJP, and this is achieved through mobilisation and mass voting, often as a result of a call from clerics. Nowhere is this more deeply rooted than in Uttar Pradesh, where Muslims form 19.3% of the population and make up over 20% of the electorate in more than a third of seats.
The researchers found that there was no difference between the Muslim voter and the state's average voter when the survey respondents were asked whose opinion matters the most in casting their vote--political or community leaders, family, friends, colleagues or their own decision; Muslims were no more likely to say that a cleric or community leader had influenced their vote. They also found that Muslims vote on the same issues as other voters; in the 2014 Lok Sabha election, for instance, economic issues such as price rise, corruption and employment were seen as most important by Muslims and others.
While the popular notion of a "vote-bank" assumes that Muslims are mobilised by a party during elections, the researchers found that Muslims were no more likely to have been canvassed for their vote or be close to a particular party. Within the community, caste-wise support also plays a significant role.
As for voting preferences, while Muslims have largely supported the Samajwadi Party in the Uttar Pradesh's recent history--and remain poised to in 2017, going by Lokniti-CSDS pre-poll numbers--this support has not been uniform, and fluctuates between parties and elections as it does for other caste groups.
While Muslim voting patterns indicate an antipathy to the BJP, the researchers conducted constituency-level analyses and found no evidence that Muslims engage in negative strategic voting or that they coordinate to defeat the BJP. In 2012, Yadavs and Jatavs were more consolidated in voting for their preferred party than Muslims, while in 2014 Brahmins and Muslims were much more consolidated behind their respective parties. "In that sense, the political behaviour among Muslims is like any other large caste group," Verma and Gupta write.