Will parties be able to make Young India vote?

As campaign 2009 kicks off, a new constituency is taking centre-stage. Political parties and candidates are hectically reworking their strategy and idiom to appeal to 'Young India'.

With BJP's prime ministerial candidate L K Advani underlining his presence in blogosphere and the Congress's Rahul Gandhi lingering in college campuses during his forays into Real India, a demographic shift in the making for several years is being politically acknowledged in new ways: roughly two-thirds of India is now below the age of 35.

The question is: what are the chances that the young voter will vote in this election? More specifically, it is: can parties assume that the overwhelming presence of the young in the general population will automatically carry over into relatively higher participation in voting on election day?

Or, will it be the task of parties and candidates not just to address the young, but also to mobilise them, draw them to the polling booths?

Post-poll surveys conducted by the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies in 1996, 1998, 1999 and 2004, reveal a pattern: while in each election year, the turnout in the age group 18-25 has been above the 50 per cent mark, it has been consistently lower than the turnout in the higher age groups of 26-35, 36-45, 46-55. Turnout is highest in middle age especially between 46 and 55 years. It dips again in those aged 56 and above.

For instance, in 1996, the turnout in the general population was 58 per cent, but 54.1 per cent for the age group 18-25. The highest turnout was in the age group 46-55 at 61.2 per cent.

In 2004, the difference in engagement with the democratic process persisted across these age groups: the turnout was 54.7 per cent for those aged 18-25 against the average of 58.1 per cent. The highest turnout in 2004 was again in the age-group 46-55 at 62.6 per cent.

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