Is Only Fair Lovely in Indian Politics? Consequences of Skin Color in a Survey Experiment in Delhi
40 Pages Posted: 12 Feb 2016
Date Written: February 9, 2016
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: Suggested Citation