The Middle Class Apathy Myth

May 11, 2009

It’s pretty much an article of faith in India that the educated middle class doesn’t vote. (Some recent blogposts and articles that touch on this: Sainath,¬†The Acorn and Great Bong) But this election is beginning to shake up that assumption.

Yes, the super-rich South Bombay had a 44% turnout rate, the lowest in Bombay. But Delhi’s most “middle” “class” constituency, New Delhi managed 56%, the highest in any Delhi constituency. But forget that. Patna had a turnout of 37%. Lucknow had 35%. Are Lucknow and Patna really full of middle class Barista-visiting dilettantes? According to Google’s Lok Sabha portal, New Delhi’s poverty rate is 15%, Lucknow’s is 18% and Patna Saheb’s is 49%. That means that at least half of New Delhi’s richer-than-poor voted, and at least a third of Patna’s poor didn’t.

I don’t think middle class apathy is a complete myth, but the Patna and New Delhi counterfactuals seem to show that blaming all low voter turnout on middle class apathy is not feasible. If someone ran the numbers, it could show that the urban poor too are disinclined to vote, or that middle class apathy is true in some¬†constituencies or circumstances but not all of them. Just breaking the cliche would be a very worthwhile activity.

I think the cliche has two origins – the first is that middle class apathy is much more visible than the apathy of the poor simply because the middle class is much more visible. The second is that condescension and sanctimony are definitive Indian middle class traits, and talking about how you¬†vote but everyone else in your class doesn’t allows you to express this very effectively.

By the way, I didn’t vote. But that was because my name wasn’t on the list even though I registered in time. How apathetic does that make me according to Sainath?