Electoral Quota System and Political Competition: Empirical Evidence from Assembly Election in India

Mori, Yuko (2016). 'Electoral Quota System and Political Competition: Empirical Evidence from Assembly Election in India' Paper presented at the annual conference of the HDCA, Tokyo 2016.

Electoral quota systems have been widely used to guarantee the political presence of historically disadvantaged groups, such as women and ethnic or religious minorities. While there is a growing literature examining the consequences of electoral quotas, this policy is still a highly controversial one. One of the important debates is whether or not electoral quotas have the positive effects intended for the beneficiaries, such as reducing their poverty levels, gaining greater access to education, or improving healthcare. Several studies investigating the effect of electoral quotas on state or national level councils could not find such positive effects. One of the reasons why disadvantaged groups may not have benefitted from electoral quotas is that electoral quotas restrain political competition by limiting the candidates to the disadvantaged groups. With insufficient competition, candidates are not incentivized to respond to voter preferences. Another possibility is that, since disadvantaged groups are not the majority of voters in many cases, candidates need to appeal to voters belonging to the non-disadvantaged groups to win the election, thus also reducing the impact of disadvantaged voter preferences.
To investigate why the political quotas do not affect state or national policy, it is important to examine the effect of political quotas on various aspects of electoral performance. While there are several studies that examine the effect of electoral quotas on the distribution of public goods or state policy, few studies focus on the relationship between electoral quotas and electoral performance. To shed light on how electoral quotas affect electoral performance, this paper focuses on the electoral quotas in assembly elections in India and explores the effect of electoral quotas on electoral performance variables such as political competition and voting behavior.
An important feature of electoral quotas in India is that, in reserved constituencies, only candidates belonging to disadvantaged castes or disadvantaged tribes can stand for election while the entire electorate casts its vote, regardless of social affiliations. Voters belonging to non-disadvantaged groups, therefore, have to cast their votes to a candidate belonging to disadvantaged castes or tribes. To analyze the effect of electoral quotas on electoral performance, we first compare political competition, measured by the number of candidates and political fragmentation (using the inverse of Herfindahl index), between reserved constituencies and non-reserved constituencies. To measure voting behavior, we use voter turnout and vote share of BJP, which is mainly supported by the upper castes. Vote share of BJP is included to analyze the behavior of non-disadvantaged voters who may still consider caste as important, but must vote for a lower caste candidate, and thus may choose a candidate based on political party affiliation as a surrogate for caste. Thus, in reserved constituencies, non-disadvantaged voters may weigh political party affiliation more heavily than in non-reserved constituencies.
The main concern of this analysis is the existence of omitted variables that are correlated with reservation status and also have an impact on political competition and voting behavior. To overcome this concern, we use the matching estimate. In India, reservation status is based on the SC population share. So matching every reserved constituency to the non-reserved constituency with the most similar percentage of SCs should therefore ensure good balancing of both observable and unobservable confounding variables.
We found that in the reserved constituencies, the number of candidates and political competition is smaller than that in non-reserved constituencies. Voter turnout in reserved constituencies is around 5% lower than in non-reserved constituencies. Finally, the vote share of BJP is larger in the reserved constituencies than that in non-reserved constituencies.  These results support two hypotheses to explain why electoral quotas in India do not increase access to public goods in favor of disadvantaged groups. First, electoral quotas restrain political competition. Second, in a reserved constituency, voters cast their votes based on the political party to which candidates belong; as a result, a political party supported by non-disadvantaged groups (and thus less responsive to disadvantage voter preferences) is more likely to get greater vote share.

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