Despite the intuitive appeal of the idea that good economic outcomes such as sustained rapid growth should help incumbents win elections, evidence on it has been scant, especially from developing countries. In one notable exception, Brender and Drazen (2008) use a comprehensive cross-country dataset spanning over 74 developed and developing democratic countries and 350 election episodes to examine whether GDP growth during the term in office or in the election year helps incumbents win elections. They find that, on average, growth helps incumbents win elections in developing countries, but not in developed ones.
We contribute to this literature by studying the link between growth and electoral success in India using data on the 2009 parliamentary elections. We consider the effects on election outcomes of candidate characteristics, party affiliation and the economic performance of the incumbent government. We find growth in a state to be by far the most important determinant of the fortunes of the candidates nominated by the party ruling in that state. The higher the growth rate in the state, the larger is the proportion of the ruling party’s candidates winning their seats. While candidate characteristics and their party affiliations matter as well, these turn out to be quantitatively less significant.
Looking at their personal characteristics first, there is a strong pattern of a larger proportion of more educated candidates winning than less educated candidates (figure 1). Out of 543 elected members in the lower house of Parliament (Lok Sabha), 260 had a postgraduate or higher degree or a technical degree (several of the Parliamentarians had a law degree); an additional 157 had an undergraduate degree.
The winning candidates are also wealthy compared to those losing the election. Based on officially acknowledged wealth, one in five members is a dollar millionaire. Almost another two in five claimed wealth of 10 million or more Indian rupees. The unconditional probability of victory rises with wealth.
Being a woman increases the unconditional probability of winning, even though only a small percentage of the elected representatives were women. While 7% of all the candidates who contested were women, they represented 11% of the winning candidates.
The most disconcerting feature of the current Lok Sabha is the presence of a large number of members with criminal cases pending against them. The proportion of those with one or more criminal cases registered against them is 14% among candidates, and 30% among the elected members. Thus, the victory rate