Politics & data in India's general election

Gilles Verniers, Senior Fellow, Centre for Policy Research
5th March 2024
13:00 - 14:00


The speaker 

Gilles Verniers is a Senior Visiting Fellow at the Centre for Policy Research where he works on various projects concerning Indian elections and contemporary Indian politics. He is also a Karl Loewenstein Fellow and Visiting Assistant Professor at Amherst College. 

Verniers’ research interests include the study of India’s political class, electoral analysis, the mechanisms of political representation and participation in India, state politics and democratisation in South Asia in general. He is particularly interested in studying the representation trajectory of marginalised groups and communities, the under-representation of women in politics and the transformation of partisan organisations in India.

The video

Four takeaways from the talk and the discussion 

1. Stay away from election predictions. Verniers advised journalists reporting on the runup to India’s elections not to predict election outcomes based on past trends, as polling booth data shows a large proportion of Indian voters switch their support between parties from one general election to the next. “Indian voters are resistant to any kind of predictive model so we can stay clear of the usual guessing game, and perhaps focus on the rules of the game,” Verniers said.

2. Analysing social media content can reveal unexpected patterns. Looking at social media trends can offer reporters an interesting glimpse into online conversations in the context of elections. 

“There's really good work that's being done analysing the content of social media, Whatsapp groups particularly, which are a major instrument of political communication. The results of that are quite surprising, we tend to imagine that there are a ton of hateful comments that go into there that polarise voters, but the bulk of content has to do with societal issues, it has to do with religious content that indirectly supports the BJP’s larger worldview,” Verniers said. 

3. There are growing restrictions on press freedom in India. Journalism is a risky profession to practise in India, Verniers said, pointing to Indian journalists who face the threat of arrest and also foreign correspondents who could be expelled from the country. 

“From the point of view of the BJP, it has the desired chilling effect, and we see the media in India as being growingly partisan or uncritical. You have pockets of journalism independence, but the journalists who work in those spaces face considerable risks and legal harassment,” he said.

4. India has a misinformation problem. Mis- and disinformation are not new phenomena in India, but their prevalence has been increasing. “India now is also a net contributor of global misinformation. It's not just destined for an audience at home. A lot of misinformation about the Israel and Palestine conflict originates from India itself,” Verniers said.

The bottom line 

In the runup to India’s general elections this spring, reporters should shy away from making broad predictions and instead look into the details of how the process is unfolding, checking the resilience of democratic institutions and investigating the impact of social media, mis- and disinformation and new technologies. Throughout this, however, journalists themselves will be dealing with heightened risks posed by a decline in media freedom and government pressure.