Do BJP and Congress women voters have different attitudes?

This article in Mint has a chart showing that “female supporters of the Congress held views different from not only BJP supporters, but also from male supporters of the Congress”, i.e. while women BJP voters are only mildly more liberal than male BJP voters, female INC voters are very liberal as compared to their male counterparts.

I suspect that something else is at play here. If you look at the second chart, BJP supporters are over 40% of the population, while Congress supporters are closer to 10%. At 40%, the law of large numbers starts kicking in – the views of the BJP-supporting women are closer to that of the general population of women.

With Congress-supporting women, I suspect, a kind of self-selection kicks in. Think of how people engage politically. It could be in one of three ways:

  1. Passive supporters of a party – i.e. you support a party because everyone around you, your family, friends and community does. It is just the default and you don’t think much of it. For example, if you ask any of my relatives, Brahmins from the strongly BJP supporting area of Udupi and Dakshina Kannada, the answer, be it from men or women, would be BJP.
  2. Active supporters – i.e. they deeply engage with the party and its views. They may have strong political views which they express either online or offline, and they may be politically active in their community.
  3. Not engaged politically. They may not identify with political party, and their vote is purely transactional.

Now, the BJP has achieved pole position in Indian politics. When you have 40% support, it is inevitable that a greater proportion of your supporters are “passive supporters” – i.e. entire families and communities support the BJP. Supporting the BJP is just a thing you do, a part of your identity, not an active, engaged choice. With the Congress, on the other hand, given that it has so little support, chances are that a higher proportion of those who support it are people who are actively engaged.

To be clear, I am not claiming that BJP supporters are less engaged. If you look at absolute numbers, you will find a greater number of active, committed BJP supporters than Congress supporters. I am only talking of the proportion of passive supporters within a party’s voter base. This has to go up as a party’s base increases. Back when the BJP was a niche party struggling to break through, it would have had a higher proportion of engaged supporters. Now, the proportion will be lower even though the absolute number is higher.

So the Congress supporters would be self-selected to be more politically engaged. This would be true for both men and women. Now, it is possible that women who are more politically engaged will give more “liberal” answers to questions related to freedom of women, and this is true for BJP as well as Congress supporters. I mean, if you are a woman party worker, how strongly are you going to agree to the statement “Men make better leaders than women”? If you are politically engaged, you are probably used to speaking your mind. How likely is it that you will agree with the statement that women should follow their husband’s views and listen to them?

In other words, I suspect that the difference between the women supporters of the BJP and the Congress is actually the difference in views between less and more politically committed women, and when you correct for that, the gap may go away, at least on these questions – i.e. questions involving women’s freedom and directly relevant to their lives. I strongly doubt that this is a case of political preferences determining conservative or liberal attitudes or vice versa.