Working Paper
When do the poor vote for the right-wing and why

Status inequality and vote choice in the Indian states

What explains the popularity of right-wing parties amongst the poor?

This paper argues that in hierarchical societies with high social-status inequality, poor high-status voters may ally with rich high-status voters if they believe their social-status is under threat. I demonstrate this in the context of the Indian states by exploiting an announcement by the Government of India in 1990 to implement affirmative action for lower castes—an intervention that threatened to weaken the social-status of upper-caste Brahmans.

Using unique data from the 1931 census, this paper shows that areas where Brahmans were more dominant in the 1930s experienced a higher surge in rightwing voting after this announcement than other areas. Using survey data, I find that both wealthy and poor Brahmans voted for the right-wing where Brahmans were dominant in 1931.

The paper shows how concerns about social-status may make the poor open to appeals by anti-redistribution parties.