Why Muted Voter Turnout is Bad News for BJP in Battleground States
Why should flat to negative voter turnout worry the BJP when the conventional wisdom suggests otherwise?
According to the final figures put out by the Election Commission (EC), the voter turnout in the first two phases of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections has stayed at the level we had seen in 2014. While the turnout inched up marginally – by a measly 0.68 percentage points – in the first phase, the second phase witnessed a minor dip of 0.45 percentage points.
Does the number give any indication of what the eventual outcome is likely to be?
Very little, if we confine ourselves to the all-India picture. However, the overall number hides wide regional variations. Here are some of the highlights based on the final numbers released by the EC on 20 April:
All New Voters Likely Voted for the BJP in 2014
Why should flat to negative voter turnout worry the BJP when the conventional wisdom suggests otherwise? The answer lies in the BJP’s 2014 election verdict.
Here are some of the salient features of the last election verdict, suggesting strong correlation between higher voter turnout and strong performance by the BJP:
- The voter turnout witnessed a quantum jump of 8 percentage points in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. The BJP, it looks like, walked away with most of the incremental votes, propelling the party’s vote share from an average of 23 percent to as high as 31 percent. If the turnout has gone down despite the BJP’s high decibel campaign, it means either of the two: there is a danger of the BJP’s vote share falling back to its mean or it stays flat at the 2014 level of 31 percent.
- The turnout went up in excess of 10 percentage points in all states the BJP swept in 2014. The turnout went up by 16 percentage points in Gujarat, 15 percentage points in Rajasthan, 12 percentage points in Bihar, 11 percentage points in UP, Madhya Pradesh and Assam and 10 percentage points in Maharashtra.
The BJP won almost 90 percent of the seats in these states.
- The states which remained immune to the Modi wave in 2014 witnessed flat or muted growth in voter turnout. States like Kerala, Karnataka, West Bengal and Punjab had turnout growth of less than one percentage points. Other than Karnataka, where the BJP managed to retain most of its seats, the party could not make much headway in other states that had subdued voter turnout.
BJP Suffered Reverses in Key Constituencies Marked by Muted Turnout
Let us recall that the BJP lost its fortress of Gorakhpur Lok Sabha seat after nearly three decades in a bypoll in 2018. Low voter turnout, at just 49 percent, was attributed as the primary reason for the unexpected loss in a seat represented till then by Yogi Adityanath. Other than combined opposition candidate’s formidable arithmetic, what harmed the BJP the most was perceived lack of enthusiasm among its supporters. The BJP, incidentally, had won the seat with a vote share in excess of 50 percent in 2014.
The party suffered the same fate in UP’s Phulpur (voter turnout at a meagre 37 percent) and Bihar Araria (turnout at 50 percent) in bypolls. Political observers attributed the loss to the BJP’s inability to mobilise its core support base to vote.
What if the identical factors are at play, resulting in lower turnout in key battleground states like Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra?
The BJP and its allies had won 115 out 128 seats in the two states alone.
Let us also recall that despite India apparently shining, Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s BJP’s loss was accompanied by dip in voter turnout from a high of nearly 60 percent in 1999, to little over 58 percent in 2004.
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