The perception that the urban voters press the 'NOTA' button more than anyone in the country is false, claims a study of recent voter behaviour in India.
It is not the urban voters who choose NOTA the most, but voters in constituencies reserved for Scheduled Tribes and Scheduled Castes in rural areas.
The study by researcher Garima Goel, which is published recently in Economic and Political Weekly (EPW), is based on an analysis of 20 State Assembly elections between October 2013 and May 2016. The Supreme Court had directed the Election Commission to include 'NOTA' (None of the Above) option in ballots in 2013.
The NOTA vote has varied between 1% and 3% of the total votes at the state level in 2014 Lok Sabha elections and the 20 Assembly elections, it says adding there is "no indication that NOTA is higher in areas with a higher urban or literate" population.
It further says NOTA votes are higher in parts of west-central, east-central and north-east across state boundaries and together they form one of the major tribal belts of the country.
In the Scheduled Tribes reserved seats, the average NOTA share is 2.55% of total votes while it is 1.43% in Scheduled Caste reserved seats and in unreserved seats, it is 1.20%. One of the assumptions for higher number of NOTA votes in these areas may be due to “discontentment” of general category voters, but it is not the lone reason. As constituencies get more urbanised, there is a decline in NOTA voting.
"Constituencies reserved for tribal communities disproportionately favoured NOTA, but it is not known whether it was indeed the STs who preferred NOTA," it said.
However, the study indicates that in areas under Fight Schedule, where proportion of tribals is more, it may be the non-tribals who might be driving the NOTA votes. Goel cites the example of Gadchiroli constituency where 10% NOTA votes were polled in October 2014 Maharashtra Assembly polls and in the district, all the three seats are reserved for tribals.
The district magistrate had then told the media about the discontent among OBCs as they felt that tribals were cornering all the seats. However, the study says there is no direct evidence to say so though OBCs in Bastar region also expressed similar discontentment.
The study also says that there is no direct correlation with criminal antecedents of candidates and NOTA voting as it does not find any "particularly high" trend in such seats.
“NOTA votes increase as constituencies get more rural and less literate. On average, seats reserved for the STs tend to record more NOTA votes than those reserved for SC, followed by unreserved seats. Together, these findings paint a picture of marginality and raise questions on the urban high educated profile popularly associated with NOTA voting,” the study said.
Read the full study report