What Influences Pakistani Voters: PIPS Survey

Election 2008: PIPS Survey Challenges Conventional Wisdom
Pak Institute For Peace Studies, Islamabad, February 2, 2008

ISLAMABAD: They may use transport provided by an election candidate to go to polling stations, but Pakistani voters use their own mind when casting the ballot.

According to a pre-election survey conducting by the Pak Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS), although 75 per cent voters say they may use conveyance provided by one or the other candidate, 78 per cent of them also assert that using a candidate’s conveyance does not influence which way they’re going to vote.

So, while free transport ensures that voters who have no personal means of transport get to polling stations, a candidate’s investment in transport does not necessarily translate into votes.

“Some of the results of this survey go against the conventional wisdom of Pakistani electoral politics,” says Amir Rana, director of the Institute. “This shows that voters are much more independent than the election candidates believe them to be.”

Another surprising finding of this survey, which targeted political party workers and general voters in nine cities of Pakistan, is the low level of importance that political party workers attach to ethnic and religious identity.

When asked why they decided to join a particular party, less than five per cent of the interviewees cited ethnic identity or religious inclination as the deciding factor. More than 44 per cent of party workers said they were impressed by their party’s manifestor while nearly 39 per cent cited “the charisma of the party leader” as their reason for joining their respective political parties.

The sample size for this survey was restrictive as far as political activists were concerned and 834 political workers were interviewed. However, the number was doubled—1893—for the general voters’ survey. In addition to the twin cities of Islamabad and Rawalpindi, the survey was conducted in Lahore, Gujrawala, Dera Ghazi Khan, Peshawar, Abbottabad, Karachi and Quetta.

The director of PIPS said that the objective of this exercise was to identify some of the key determinants of political behaviour in Pakistan. It also explored the nature of party affiliation, levels of grassroots participation in political parties’ internal affairs and the rationale of political activism. In the case of voters, the survey made an attempt to gauge the factors that do—or do not—influence their decisions.

The survey also shows that most political party activists (57.92 per cent) do not contribute to party fund. Only 336 of the 934 respondents said they paid their monthly or annual membership fee. That implies that political parties in Pakistan do not rely on membership fee for their finances and that political workers contribute to party activities by campaigning for candidates, extending help in organising meetings and rallies and canvassing, rather than making financial contributions. What may explain this trend is that a majority of workers usually come from low-income groups and while they are willing to invest time and energy in party work,
they cannot provide financial support.

Some of the responses from political party workers also highlight the gap between decision-makers in a political party and their grassroots workers. Just over a quarter of the respondents feel they could influence party policies in some way or are given importance by their party. Well over half of them believe they have no influence in their political party and are not important to party organisation. Clearly, ordinary political party workers lack a sense of participation and wield little influence in a party’s decision-making processes.

About three-fourths of the interviewees had become workers of their current political party when it was either in power at some tier of governance or was part of a ruling coalition in their province or at the centre. Only 85 respondents (9.09 per cent) said they had joined the party when it was not in power. This trend is reflects the overall political culture of Pakistan in which a party’s ability to provide patronage and distribute resources means it can draw more activists from the grassroots to do its organisational and campaign work.

A large number of voters interviewed for this survey are already supporters of one or the other political party. Nearly 79 per cent of them replied in the affirmative when asked if they were supporters of a particular political party, whereas just over 17 per cent did not prefer any one party.

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