In India, there is a commonly held belief that higher turnout in elections is inherently bad for incumbents. While the origins of this piece of received wisdom are unclear, it is a trope that is carted out after each and every election. In a new piece as part of our India Elects 2019 series (done in collaboration with the Hindustan Times, Johnny Guy and I examine the association between turnout and incumbency drawing on a dataset of more than 120 state elections between 1980 and 2012. We find no empirical relationship between the two. We write:
What our analyses do reveal is that, despite the popularity of the notion that citizens come out to the polls in greater numbers when they are motivated to punish the incumbent government, three decades of electoral data present a more ambiguous picture. Voter turnout, the data suggest, is not necessarily pro- or anti-incumbent; rather, the relationship between these two variables is likely shaped by the specific context at hand. Similar analyses using national election data conducted by other researchers tell a comparable story: changes in voter turnout are not highly informative of future electoral outcomes.