Is Only Fair Lovely in Indian Politics? Consequences of Skin Color in a Survey Experiment in Delhi

40 Pages Posted: 12 Feb 2016

See all articles by Amit Ahuja

Amit Ahuja

University of California, Santa Barbara

Susan Ostermann

University of California, Berkeley, Students

Aashish Mehta

University of California, Santa Barbara

Date Written: February 9, 2016

Abstract

Adoration for fair skin color and bias against dark skin color are strong in Indian society. The theory of colorism suggests that, irrespective of voters’ own phenotype, they prefer lighter- to darker-skinned candidates. And yet, a substantial number of dark-skinned politicians get elected into office in India. In the first systematic study of voter preferences for candidate skin color in India, we conducted a survey experiment in which respondents were randomly administered one of three treatments based upon candidate skin tone: fair, wheatish (medium-brown), and dark. We find only weak evidence for colorism in the sample as a whole – the fair candidate is supported more than the dark and wheatish candidates, but at only marginal significance levels. This is because color preferences are heterogeneous amongst respondent groups. Dalits and the poor, groups that are darker relative to other groups and have been politically mobilized, exhibit much stronger support for dark candidates than other groups, consistent with a desire for descriptive representation. Amongst those who do not belong to these two groups, including dark respondents, the fair candidate finds more support than the dark candidate. This shows that even in the absence of skin color-based electoral appeals, skin color can emerge as an implicit marker of politically mobilized identities, and that this mobilization can undercut colorism.

Keywords: Elections, India, Caste, Dalit, Candidates, Representation, Skin Color, Political Mobilization, Survey Experiments, Poor

Suggested Citation

Ahuja, Amit and Ostermann, Susan and Mehta, Aashish Sunil, Is Only Fair Lovely in Indian Politics? Consequences of Skin Color in a Survey Experiment in Delhi (February 9, 2016). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2730325 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2730325

Amit Ahuja (Contact Author)

University of California, Santa Barbara ( email )

Santa Barbara, CA 93106
United States

Susan Ostermann

University of California, Berkeley, Students ( email )

525 F. Haas School of Business
Berkeley, CA
United States

Aashish Sunil Mehta

University of California, Santa Barbara ( email )

Santa Barbara, CA 93106
United States

HOME PAGE: http://www.global.ucsb.edu/people/aashish-mehta

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