How ‘Silent’ Women Voters Put NDA in Driver’s Seat in Bihar

Nitish Kumar’s ‘silent voters’ – the women of Bihar – paved way for the NDA to clinch power for the fourth time.

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Women
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Bihar Assembly Elections 2020: Women hold up their voter ids for a photographer as they wait outside a polling booth in rural Bihar. Image used for representation.
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As the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government stormed into power in Bihar for the fourth time in the last two decades, a particular group of people played a crucial role in placing them there – the women of Bihar.

"Ab dekhiye, bahno ko hum kahenge, aap hi ke liye to sabse jyada kaam kiya hai, to aapse agrah hai, parso subah pahle vote de dijiyega...," Nitish Kumar said, with folded hands, as he finished his last public rally at Purnia on 5 November.

There were no loud cheers or heavy slogans in response to his appeal. But Nitish Kumar’s ‘silent voters’ – his core support base, as analysts call them – paved way for the NDA to clinch victory on 10 November.

More Women Turned Up to Vote

According to the Election Commission data, female voter turnout was recorded at 59.7 percent, higher than both overall polling of both 57.05 percent and 54.7 percent male turnout.

Of the 38 districts in Bihar, 23 reported higher voter turnout of women than that of men.

This is not new for Bihar. In the last two Assembly elections, too, more women turned up to cast their ballot. In 2010, female voter turnout was at 54.5 percent, as against 51.1 percent male turnout.

More recently, in 2015, the male voter turnout was only 53.3 percent against 60.5 percent female turnout.

However, there are limits to this as many women are missing from the electoral rolls in Bihar. Despite a higher turnout in percentage terms, the number of women who voted is less than the number of men who voted.

More Women Voters = Advantage NDA

According to an analysis of all 243 seats by Hindustan Times, the NDA had a lead of 19 percentage points in the strike rate in all seats where women voters outnumbered male voters. Of 243, in 118 constituencies, more women turned up to vote than men.

From the EC data, a report shows that more the number of women, the more is the probability of the NDA winning. For example, when share of women voters increased, chances of the NDA winning the seat rose to 62 percent.

The probability of the NDA win drops to 26.5 percent when fewer number of women turned up.

What Did the Exit Polls Miss?

A Lokniti-CSDS conducted an opinion poll for India Today TV, which observed that the women kept "NDA afloat" in Bihar as the Nitish Kumar-led alliance had a significant advantage with the women voters.

“As many as 41 percent women were found to be voting for NDA as against 31 percent for RJD-led grand alliance and 28 percent for others,” the opinion poll cited.

However, most exit polls did not factor in the ‘silent women voters’.

For example, Axis-My India in their survey itself mention that it was “difficult to get female responses” and that they had only had 31 percent women in their sample and had to add weights to scale it up to 50 percent.

The same survey mentions that the NDA is likely to get 4 percent extra vote share of female voters than that of males.

The CVoter exit poll data, too, shows advantage NDA in terms of female voters. 38 percent of women voters are likely to have cast their ballot for the NDA, as compared to 35.3 percent for the Mahagathbandan. Incidentally, 37.2 percent male voters cast their ballot for the NDA, while 37.9 percent for the Mahagathbandan.

Why Women Vote for Nitish Kumar?

Political analysts say that Kumar has "nurtured" this vote bank since he became the chief minister for the first time in 2005. He turned the dissatisfaction among the women – after a 15-year RJD rule – to his favor.

Free cycle programmes for schoolgirls in 2005, and 50 percent quota for women in panchayat elections played to his favor. In his second term, again, he introduced scholarships for girl students in Class 12 and also increased 50 percent reservation for women in government jobs.

However, in his third term, on 1 April 2016, Kumar declared Bihar a dry state. Analysts attributed this to the sweeping support of women that helped him in his victory in 2015.
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