Wave theory

Cash, crowds, and caste in Indian elections

by FRANCIS CODY

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In India, as elsewhere, voters and electoral observers refer to powerful, emerging political trends as “waves,” such as the “Modi wave” that brought Prime Minister Narendra Modi to power. In rural South India, during the run‐up to the 2019 national elections, how did people read signs of political waves, and how did voters align themselves with these signs as they circulated across media forms? A “wave theory” analysis finds that rural voters in the state of Tamil Nadu assess electoral chances across various factors—including candidates’ cash flow, crowd behavior, caste calculations, and professional analyses of polling data. People take electoral positions within ambient and layered ecologies of information, in which everyday speculation about political fortunes is situated alongside formalized methods of analysis, calculation, and prediction. And because electoral waves are experienced locally but often carry energy from afar, they constitute both a force and a fluid medium of convergence. [elections, democracy, prediction, crowds, money, caste, media, Tamil Nadu, India]