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Open Access Publications from the University of California

The Electoral Consequences of Mass Religious Events

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Mass ritualized gatherings like pilgrimages are central to religious practice globally. Do they generate votes for religious parties? Theoretically, the events may heighten religiosity, enlarging support for parties seen as “owning” religious policy issues. Such parties might also engage in “platform co-optation,” piggybacking on the events to organize and campaign. We evaluate the electoral impact of India’s Kumbh Mela, a Hindu festival considered the world’s largest human assembly, leveraging its astrologically determined timing combined with districts’ proximity by rail to the festival sites. The Kumbh Mela boosts Hindu nationalists’ vote share. Tests of mechanisms suggest it does so by fomenting identity change—evidenced by increases in communal violence and the adoption of orthodox dietary practices—and by bolstering party infrastructure. India’s main secular-leaning party loses support, but not in regions with denser concentrations of religious minorities. Our study offers a new account of how confessional parties make inroads in multiethnic democracies.

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