Six takeaways from record turnout in the biggest election in human history

Image: Reuters/Danish Siddiqui
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

Even for the world’s largest democracy, the 2014 national elections stand out underscored by a narrative of record turnout in India’s electoral process. As we wait for the results, here are six things the voter turnout data in the nine-phase, 36-day election tells us:

Indians really rocked the vote

At 65.85%, the overall voter turnout was the highest ever recorded by India in the 16 general elections held since 1951. The previous highest was 63.56% in 1984. In the previous elections, held in 2009, voter turnout was 58.19%. In absolute numbers, 537 million Indians cast their vote this time around. That’s an increase of 120 million over the 2009 figure—the equivalent of the entire populations of California, Texas, New York, Florida, and Illinois showing up to vote.

Urban voters got off their high horses

Traditionally, the relatively well-off, educated, urban voter has demonstrated a reluctance to participate in the electoral process. This election saw change in the right direction. In the state of Delhi, which was the epicenter of the emergence of a new political outfit (the Aam Aadmi Party) just six months ago, all seven constituencies recorded an increase in turnout. The state recorded an overall turnout of 65.10% in 2014, as compared to 51.85% in 2009 and close to the national average of 65.85%.

Elsewhere, such as in the financial capital of India, the constituency of Mumbai South and home to some of the most expensive real estate, registered nothing short of a rally. In 2009, only 40.36% of its registered electorate voted. This time, it was 54%. The same is the case in India’s tech capital and the constituency of Bangalore South, where IT chief-turned technocrat-turned politician Nandan Nilekani was the Congress Party candidate. Compared to 44.37% in 2009, it recorded 55.69%. Yet, even both Mumbai South and Bangalore South trailed the national average in a big way.


Data: Election Commission of India, Datameet
Data: Election Commission of India, Datameet
Data: Election Commission of India, Datameet
Data: Election Commission of India, Datameet

A decline in turnout was the exception

Of the 35 states and union territories that make up India, 31 saw an increase over 2009 turnout. The exceptions were Manipur, Sikkim, Nagaland, and Tripura, which have a combined six seats; three of these states are way above the 2014 national average and were only slipping marginally from their 2009 highs.

Only 66 of the 543 constituencies across India saw a fall in voter turnout. Even in this set, 19 constituencies were in West Bengal, which averaged 81.4% turnout in 2009; in other words, turnouts here fell from their highs but stayed way above the national average.

Data: Election Commission of India, Datameet
Data: Election Commission of India, Datameet

Big states registered big increases

Of the 477 constituencies that registered an increase in voter turnout, the magnitude in as many as 209 was 10 percentage points or more over the previous elections. Of these, 152 belonged to six states that account for 45% of the Indian Parliament: Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, and Madhya Pradesh. In other words, the electorate in states that matter the most numerically made their presence felt.

A former Communist bastion leads all big states

The eastern-most part of India recorded the highest turnouts, accounting for five of the top 10 states. The only big state among them was West Bengal, a Communist bastion till 2011. The state recorded an average turnout of 81.4% and accounted for as many as 14 of the top 20 constituency turnouts.

Among individual constituencies, Nagaland the highest turnout, of 88.57%. It was followed by Dhubri in Assam (88.49%) and Tamluk (87.53%). At the other end of the spectrum, the three constituencies with the least turnout were all in Jammu & Kashmir: Baramulla (39.6%), Anantnag (28.0%) and Srinagar (25.6%).

States with high stakes recorded high turnouts

In three states, which are at pivotal points for different sets of reasons, voter turnout was brisk and left a mark. The first was Andhra Pradesh (74.4%), which is currently in the process of being split into two. The second was Chhattisgarh (68.9%), which is reeling under local insurgency and where 10 of the 11 constituencies recorded jumps of 10 percentage points or more. The third was Assam (80.1%), which has a high percentage of illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, an issue the BJP periodically rails against; in this state, all 14 constituencies recorded a voting percentage of above 75%.