Lok Sabha Elections 2024: What Explains the Low Voter Turnout During Phase One?

This even after the BJP and the Left parties have a better ability to implement the "Get Out the Vote” strategy.

5 min read
Hindi Female

The first phase of the Lok Sabha (LS) elections has recorded a low turnout and this has caused a stir in the political circles. What does a low turnout indicate? Who has an edge in such a scenario? Different theories have been floating around. The ruling party as well as the Opposition have claimed that a low turnout will be advantageous for them.

A turnout of 65.5% was recorded in 102 seats of Phase 1 as against 69.9% on these seats in 2019 which marks a drop of 4.4% based on provisional numbers.

Despite awareness campaigns by the Election Commission of India (ECI), NGOs and broadcast channels, a steep decline in voter turnout is not good news with respect to voter participation in the biggest election of the world’s biggest democracy.

The ECI, political parties, and candidates would really need to think about why the polling percentage was low and adjust their strategies accordingly for the balance phases.

This is even after cadre-based Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Left parties theoretically have a better ability to implement the "Get Out the Vote” strategy. They are better equipped to get the committed voters to come out of their homes and cast their votes.


Why Voter Turnout Matters?

What is the impact of a high or a low turnout on electoral results? A higher voter turnout is considered an indication of change while a low voter turnout of continuity is the general belief. However, there is no clear correlation or trend as the data shows.

There have been 17 Lok Sabha elections from 1951-52 to 2019. In 16 LS elections from 1957 to 2019 (excluding the first election), the turnout declined six times and increased 10 times. Of these, the incumbent governments have been repeated 8 times and replaced the same number of times.

Of the 10 times the turnout has increased, the incumbent has lost 4 times and won 6 times. Hence, the government was repeated 60% of the time. Of the 6 times the turnout has declined, the incumbent has lost 4 times and won 2 times.

Hence, the government was repeated just 33% of the time. Voter turnout depends not only on sentiment but also on constituency, candidates, caste dynamics, etc. One also needs to analyse seat-wise turnout or voting percentage to get a clearer picture.

In 2019 compared to 2014, on 79 seats, the turnout witnessed an increase. On 43 of these seats, the winning party of 2014 lost elections in 2019. On the balance 36, the winning party was able to retain the seat. On 23 seats, the turnout witnessed a decline. On 18 seats, the winning party of 2014 lost elections, and on the balance 5, the winning party was able to retain the seat.


Why a Low Turnout Should Be a Cause of Concern for Parties?

One of the most obvious reasons behind a low voter turnout is heat waves throughout the country, and high temperatures recorded even in a hilly state like Uttarakhand. There could also be overconfidence amongst the BJP voters and the cadres as they view the election as a done deal.

The aayega to Modi hi narrative could have led to less enthusiasm amongst Opposition voters. Add to that the discontent of caste groups such as the Rajputs/Jats mostly in Rajasthan and Western Uttar Pradesh.

In South India, in urban seats such as Chennai, the apathy was clearly visible and so was the cynicism amongst the youth or first-time voters. A waveless and mudda-less election may have also had a role in this kind of low turnout.

For the seats that were held by the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), the drop in turnout is 5.9% while only 3.2% of seats were held by 'Others' as per Yogendra Yadav. However, this does not indicate anything.

The BJP won 40 seats in 2019 of these 102 seats. The average margin on these seats was 21%. So a 5.9% drop even if assuming all were BJP voters doesn't tilt the scale in favour of Opposition on these seats.

The BJP supporters abstaining won't help the Opposition, they need to switch towards the Congress and allies and that does not seem to be happening.


State-Wise Performance

Gujarat is a prime example where the voter turnout declined both in 2017 and 2022 and was retained by the BJP.

There are three states where the voter turnout in 2024 is higher than in 2019. Those are:

  • Assam (The Citizenship Amendment Act [CAA] seems to have led to a charged-up / polarised atmosphere)

  • Chhattisgarh (despite the Naxal incident in Bastar), and

  • Meghalaya.

Three states which recorded the biggest drop are:

  • Nagaland (which saw a boycott in some districts)

  • Manipur (on expected lines after last year’s violence), and

  • Arunachal Pradesh (which usually witnesses high voting).

In Bihar, the turnout is lower by around 5%, the flip-flops by Nitish Kumar may have led to disillusionment amongst a section of voters. Western UP also has recorded a decline of around 6%. The Jat belt which has been the hotbed of farmers' protests has also seen their community party Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) switch sides from the INDIA bloc to the NDA.

Some supporters not approving of the alliance seem to have stayed away from voting. In Tamil Nadu, voter turnout was down by 3% nearly. The BJP has alleged that the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) and Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) have joined hands to keep the saffron party out of the state.

An AIADMK voter is anti-DMK largely, such allegation if true, may have caused some confusion with a section of traditional voters staying away from the elections. 

How Did the VIP Seats Fare?

A lower turnout could mean margins on seats could witness a decline. Two seats Chhindwara (37000) and Saharanpur (22000) witnessed very close contests in 2019, but have registered a decline which risks flipping to other parties.

Nitin Gadkari’s seat has also recorded a decline which could impact margins. It’s strange that high-profile seats despite star campaigners have registered a decline. 

In Bikaner and Alwar, two cabinet ministers are contesting. In the 2019 elections, a margin of 2 lakh+ was recorded in these seats. A lower turnout could mean the Jat/Rajput community turning up poorly and hence, there could be a close contest this time. South Chennai witnessed lower turnout largely due to urban apathy.

To sum up, the parties, the candidates, as well as the commentators, are reading the decline in turnout in their own way. However, only the results on 4 June will prove which theory is correct!

(Amitabh Tiwari is an independent political commentator and can be reached at @politicalbaaba. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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