Home Editor's Pick Lok Sabha elections: Inside the voter’s mind!

Lok Sabha elections: Inside the voter’s mind!


votersNew Delhi, May 17 – As the BJP won the most definitive victory India has seen in the last three decades, Narendra Modi sent out a message: “India has won.” A few hours before, the Election Commissioner, V.S. Sampath, thanked the people of India for turning up in large numbers and making the 2014 general elections historic.

The mind of the voter was the x-factor this time around: How did the voters choose sides and when? Why did they decide to turn up in such high numbers?

In the run-up to General Elections 2014, India polled, analysed and debated all possible permutations of factors shaping the voters’ mind. In March, Lok Foundation and the University of Pennsylvania’s Centre for the Advanced Study claimed that unemployment, corruption and development were the top concerns for Indian voters.


A Google Search Trend between January and March showed corruption, Jan Lokpal, and black money to be the most searched topics on the mind of the voter. Nobody really knows how voters think. But psychologists and political scientists have been analysing the psychology of ballot-why we choose certain politicians-for years, especially in the US. The predominant theories provide some clue to the ever-elusive question. Take a look:


To Nobel-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman, voting is an intuitive decision. Even if voters claim to choose candidates by their stand on issues, Kahneman believes these are conscious justification of choices made subconsciously.

In his 2011 book, Thinking, Fast and Slow, he writes: “You like or dislike people long before you know much about them…Whether you state them or not, you often have answers to questions that you do not completely understand, relying on evidence that you can neither explain nor defend.” Voters, too, try to figure out inner capacity from outward signs: Perhaps, facial expression, perhaps the way one carries oneself, body language and attitude.

According to Jon A. Krosnick, Stanford political psychologist, people are likely to vote in large numbers on election day if they want to get rid of a candidate. In his research over the last two decades, he has shown that acrimonious slanders, insults and jibes work really well.

You win if you know how to do it effectively, without looking too nasty in the process. Moreover, first impressions matter for voters: If people like, or dislike, a candidate the first time, it’s hard to change that impact. That suggests, candidates who save the big bucks for last-minute campaigns, are likely to lose. The winners usually spend the most on early impact.


Harvard psychologist and former editor of Psychology Today, Robert Epstein, has just released a study this month analysing Elections 2014 in India. He has been probing how Google search results can influence undecided voters and swing a close election, without them noticing the impact.

Epstein measured that by altering search rankings (what he calls Search Engine Manipulation Effect SEME), the preferences of voters could be changed by up to 12 per cent. Election-based search rankings need serious regulation, he has posited.