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India needs this! How mobile-based campaign cut tainted candidates’ votes in UP polls 2017

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Bengaluru, Jan 23: At a time that no amount of reform is being able to take India to the desired end of a clean political system where tainted electoral candidates and leaders would hold the democracy to ransom, a technology-based experiment ushered some home.

India needs this! How mobile-based campaign cut tainted candidates’ votes in UP polls 2017

According to a report in IndiaSpend, a study titled 'Coordinating Voters against Criminal Politicians: Evidence from a Mobile Experiment in India' released last November undertook a unique mobile-based experiment. It sent four voter information messages on the phones of randomly picked voters in more than 3,800 villages in Uttar Pradesh in the run-up to the Assembly elections of 2017 and it was found that candidates facing criminal charges had a 12 per cent drop in votes they got. Overall, it resulted into a three-percentage-point decline in their vote-share.

The study partnered with three major telecom companies in the country, with a combined average census-village-level market share of 40 per cent, to run a mobile-based information campaign.

It was a significant development since in nearly 20 per cent of the seats contested across the state in that election, the winner was decided by a margin of three percentage point of less, as per the study.

"Uttar Pradesh has the largest proportion of candidates with criminal charges fielded by major political parties such as the Samajwadi Party, Bharatiya Janata Party, Congress and Bahujan Samaj Party," IndiaSpend said in a report in March, 2017.

The study proved that mobile phone-based information campaigns can help voters to make informed choices, especially in times when mobile is making fast and deep penetration into the nation's hinterlands.

In the 2017 Assembly elections in UP, the proportion of candidates with serious criminal cases almost doubled from 2012 (eight per cent to 15 per cent) though candidates with criminal cases saw a drop by one percentage point (19 to 18 per cent), according to the Association of Democratic Reforms, an NGO.

What were the four voter information messages that were sent?

Four lakh and five thousand people received at least one voice message and one text message a couple of days before UP went to polls.

The four were from:

  • Basic information message: This asked the people to know their candidates and think carefully before casting their ballots, besides providing them with information on the criminal charges (number and type), if any, against all othe major party candidates.
  • Information plus coordination message: This came with content informing voters that many other residents of their area had also received the same message.
  • Information plus ethnic-voting message: This gave the voters criminality information and additionally urged them to get rid of the voting habit along caste lines.
  • Women's mobilisation message: This asked the voters to know their candidates and think carefully before voting, besides a message to encourage more women voters to turn out to cast ballots.

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