Is voting for a political party better than voting for the candidate?
It has been said that in the political systems of Canada, New Zealand and the United States, only about 20 percent of the voters vote for a candidate who is not from a preferred party…but these figures are ballpark figures and not the result of exhaustive research. In fact there is a general belief that in the USA the “personal identity and philosophy” of a candidate is far more important to the average voter than his or her party affiliation, unlike in Canada. In Canada, the voting is said to be more or less party-based.
There are no reliable statistics on what percentage of voters go for party centred voting or candidate centred voting, but I think it is reasonable to assume that it changes from time to time, depending on the candidates standing for election. Some believe that in America there has been a shift from party-centred voting to candidate-centred voting, particularly in the recent presidential election. For example it is believed that 28% of the voters rooting for Clinton in the recent presidential election switched their loyalties to McCain, who comes from a rival party.
It seems to depends heavily on the candidates doesn’t it. The stronger the negativity one feels towards a candidate from a favourite party, the higher the chances of switching party loyalty.
Voting for a candidate one doesn’t really like
One wonders why a good percentage of voters vote for a candidate whom they don’t like too much. While some who do so are die-hard fans of a particular party and would never switch, some voters stick to their party candidate if he/she is seem to be about the same as the candidate from the other major party. And they do not like to vote for a strong candidate from a third party as they believe that it is “wasting” their vote as that candidate has no chance of winning anyway. That all it does is result in a splintering of votes. However to vote for someone for this reason doesn’t seem right to me.
In India an overwhelming number of people vote for candidates based on party affiliation. The party becomes the powerful organ which they look to solve their problems. Indeed, “conventional wisdom” does say that voting for the party rather than an individual works better as an individual without a strong party could well be powerless. This must be true, particularly in India, but what is also true is that strong individual candidates do stir up the pot…and the more of them we have, the more churning there is of the system! And just think what harm a weak, corrupt or useless candidate from a powerful party can do. So even if voting for candidates from small parties will not exactly help stabilize our government (splintering of votes), it’s better than voting for corrupt people. In any case this splintering of votes amongst smaller state parties is happening on a large scale in India already…but even here one suspects that the party is taking precedence over the candidate.
The wiki has a fairly comprehensive list of Indian political parties. Here is a list of the national parties.
- Indian National Congress- (INC, led by Sonia Gandhi)
- Bharatiya Janata Party- (“Indian People’s Party”, BJP, led by Rajnath Singh)
- Bahujan Samaj Party- (“Majoritarian Society Party”, BSP, led by Mayawati)
- Nationalist Congress Party- (NCP, led by Sharad Pawar)
- Communist Party of India (Marxist) – (CPI(M), led by Prakash Karat)
- Communist Party of India- (CPI, led by Ardhendu Bhushan Bardhan)
- Rashtriya Janata Dal – (RJD, led by Lalu Prasad Yadav)
- Samajwadi Party – (SP, led by Mulayam Singh Yadav)
There are a whole host of state parties as well as registered but unrecognized parties and I won’t list all of them here. I am just giving a tentative list of new parties which have come up with the intention of shaking up the Indian political system…wanting to bring in honesty and transparency into politics.
Revolt India is a party started by some IITians (Talvinder Singh and Praveen Tyagi) and then last year another group of IITians had started a political party called Bharat Punarnirman Dal (BPD), a state political party (Uttar Pradesh). Then there is Lok Paritran, again formed by IIT graduates, but it has run into some trouble (a split in the party). There is a Pune-based People’s Guardian Party (Lok Rakshak) with Arun Bhatia in the lead (that’s his pamphlet on the left) and a recent one is the Professional party of India (PPI) where a group of professionals believe that the only way to rid the country of its problems is by taking “the political plunge”. There is also the All India Muslim Forum.
(Update) Vivek mentioned in his comment that a party called Lok Satta led by Dr. Jayaprakash Narayan (an Andhra Pradesh based party) is doing some good work and is led largely by professionals and social workers. The party has been around for two years now and has an agenda that “transcends religion, caste, region, and language”. Over 70% of their members are under the age of 25.
Relatively new parties like these have been contesting elections but haven’t been making much of a dent, often none of their candidates win a seat. But then this is expected, as floating a political party is easy, but actually winning the confidence of the people another matter. Social scientist Ramchandra Guha has put it well in an interview to The Telegraph (India):
Running a political party requires patience, organisation, capital inflow and the commitment of thousands of people. Fly-by-night parties that come riding a media wave don’t last for long
I am certainly not implying that any of the parties listed above are fly-by-night parties, just that it’s going to take quite a while for the public to repose faith in them and they need to stick around for that long. A voter, used as he is to voting for parties, not individuals, is going to take a long time to start to have faith in these smaller unknown parties which have no track record. And indeed he should, as voting blindly for any party, just on the basis of their promises, doesn’t seem to be the best course of action.
It’s best to vote for individuals. It is easier to choose between two experienced individuals as one tends to know his/her strength and weaknesses. Untried candidates, however noble their agenda, are always a risk. I am not saying that one should vote only for experienced candidates, just that one has to be careful about voting for an untested politician/party. However honest and straightforward a politician, qualities like administrative ability, a strong will and the ability to get along with people are critical to his success. Politics as we all know is a different ball-game.
All said and done, the mushrooming of these parties is the best thing that has happened in Indian politics in a long time. It shows that people with fire in their bellies are spoiling for change. From the voter’s point of view he just has to be careful of those people who might jump on the bandwagon just for the ride.
Finally we will all have to wait and watch, and take each politician on his merit as well as with a pinch of salt, and not get taken in with big talk and tall promises.
(Photo is by me)
Update: After reading Shefaly’s comment I remembered reading about an organisation which is helping Mumbai voters to find out more about their leaders. It didn’t take long to find out that this organisation is called Praja. They have just started with this exercise and intend to cover all of Mumbai’s wards soon. It is also possible to write to one’s councillor directly via Praja. I do not know of any other initiative like this in any other parts of the country and if anyone knows of them do let us all know.
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