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Faculty Fellow Saad Gulzar examines engagement of women voters in India

Feb 8 2019

In a time when women’s voting turnout in India has experienced remarkable growth, political parties may be missing an important opportunity. What would happen if their political messages specifically target women? Clayman Institute Faculty Fellow Saad Gulzar, assistant professor of political science, shared at a Faculty Fellows presentation early results from his field work on women’s engagement in municipal elections in the Uttar Pradesh and Punjab states that he conducted with Anirvan Chowdhury (Berkeley) and Durgesh Pathak (Aam Aadmi Party).

photo of Dr. Gulzar

The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), or Common Man party, took notice of the growth in women’s voting. Since 2009, women’s turnout has increased at an unprecedented rate, and now approaches that of men. Yet, few parties are engaging directly with women in their campaign outreach. In the traditional mode of outreach, campaign workers visit individual homes and talk with the male head of household about the candidates. In Gulzar’s study, across seven cities in Uttar Pradesh and Punjab in November and December 2017, party workers were assigned to implement three different randomized messages to potential voters before Municipal Corporation (MC) elections where candidates were running for ward councilor or mayor positions. The conversations between party workers and voters varied in whether they included women-focused campaign messages in door-to-door canvassing; public announcements of women-focused messaging; and employing women canvassers vs. mostly male canvassers. Besides these three interventions, the study also analyzed the effect of reserving seats for women candidates by the respective State Election Commissions according to which some seats were to be contested by women candidates only.

Since 2009, women’s turnout has increased at an unprecedented rate, and now approaches that of men. Yet, few parties are engaging directly with women in their campaign outreach.

The study employed three methods to analyze results: household surveys to nearly 4,000 individuals; election data on turnout and party vote shares; and phone interviews with party workers and campaign managers to determine the take-up of the experiment within the party. At an early stage in analysis, Gulzar said he was still sorting through the data. He noted that while all of AAP’s campaign managers were trained in the new messaging, it seemed the compliance rate in effectively conveying the messaging to field workers and delivering the messaging to households was somewhat low. He estimated a 21 percent likelihood the campaign was taken up at the local party level.

Gulzar said the appeal of the messages chosen to engage women may have been difficult to separate from overall communications effectiveness in the campaign. While the party identified 12 distinct campaign issues for women’s outreach – including reserved MC seats for women, public safety issues such as streetlights, constructing more parks and establishing neighborhood health clinics – they also promoted 16 additional issues. It’s difficult to say, Gulzar noted, whether a campaign with so many simultaneous issues can make a memorable connection with voters.

In early results, the study showed strong indication of a small increase in voter turnout among women. Despite this higher turnout, there was no discernible evidence of increased support for the AAP from men or women, but some indication that more voters chose independent candidates. The faculty fellows engaged in a lively discussion of different ways to examine the data as analysis continues.

Gulzar also described a separate ongoing study examining recruitment of women campaign workers to the AAP in India’s eastern state of Jharkhand. The design tests whether certain types of candidate statements have more impact in recruiting women to the party. In a half-million pamphlets distributed by about 400 workers identified as party vice presidents, photos of a man or woman party worker were paired with statements about their backgrounds and reasons for joining the party. The idea is to test if recounting stories of existing women party workers can attract more women to participate in politics as party workers. Research is ongoing and findings are expected in the spring of 2019.

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identifies root causes of barriers,
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