Voters have spoken, but what did they say? - Hindustan Times
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Voters have spoken, but what did they say?

ByDeepankar Basu, Kartik Misra
Jun 16, 2024 08:10 PM IST

A deeper analysis of constituency-level data suggests that the BJP’s footprint has increased in eastern and southern states, but voters in many of its stronghold states have sent a negative message

Even as Narendra Modi took oath as the Prime Minister (PM) of a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government for a third consecutive term on Sunday, political pundits continued to analyse the surprising election verdict. The BJP ended up winning 240 seats, well short of the 272-majority mark — though the alliance comfortably crossed the magic figure with 293 seats — and a far cry from the 400-plus target of the Modi-Shah election machine.

Voters showing showing finger ink marks after cast vote at a polling booth during seventh and last phase of Lok Sabha election at Danapur Diyara in Patna, Bihar (Photo by Santosh Kumar/ Hindustan Times)
Voters showing showing finger ink marks after cast vote at a polling booth during seventh and last phase of Lok Sabha election at Danapur Diyara in Patna, Bihar (Photo by Santosh Kumar/ Hindustan Times)

In the post-poll analyses by commentators, two contentions deserve careful consideration. First, that BJP’s electoral debacle was the result of the Opposition managing to prevent the division of anti-BJP votes, and second, that BJP’s performance was driven by a decline in only a few states. To evaluate these two contentions, we analysed parliamentary constituency-level data on the BJP’s performance in 10 key states that together account for 326 seats in the Lok Sabha. We chose the 10 states to reflect the national variation in the BJP’s performance, with five showing the largest seat gain and the other five registering the largest seat decline for the BJP between 2019 and 2024. The former five states, which we will together call Group 1, are Odisha (+12), Telangana (+4), Andhra Pradesh (+3), Madhya Pradesh (+1) and Chhattisgarh (+1); the latter 5, which we will collectively call Group 2, are Uttar Pradesh (-29), Maharashtra (-14), Rajasthan (-10), Karnataka (-8) and West Bengal (-6).

In Group 1, which accounts for 103 parliamentary seats, the BJP increased its tally from 51 in 2019 to 72 in 2024. In these states, the BJP also increased its strike rate from 50% in 2019 to 85% in 2024. Additionally, in the 82 constituencies that the BJP contested in these states in both 2019 and 2024, it improved its average vote share from 41% in 2019 to 50% in 2024. Most notably, in the six constituencies of Andhra Pradesh where the BJP contested in both 2019 and 2024, it increased its average vote share from less than 2% in 2019 to around 49% in 2024; and in the 15 constituencies in Telangana where the BJP contested in both 2019 and 2024, its average vote share increased by more than 15 percentage points. Even in the constituencies it lost in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, it managed to increase its average vote share by 40 and 20 percentage points respectively.

In Group 2, which accounts for 223 Lok Sabha seats, the BJP’s seats fell from 152 in 2019 to 85 in 2024. Taking account of the seats contested, the BJP’s strike rate in Group 2 states fell from 77% in 2019 to 44% in 2024. In the 191 seats that the BJP contested in both 2019 and in 2024 from the states in this group, the BJP’s average vote share fell from 50% in 2019 to 45% in 2024. Among these states, Rajasthan witnessed the greatest decline of around 11 percentage points in the BJP’s average vote share across the 24 constituencies in which it contested in both 2019 and 2024. Similarly, in the 25 constituencies that it contested in Maharashtra in both 2019 and 2024, the BJP suffered a nine percentage point decline in its average vote share.

To round out our analysis of the BJP’s electoral performance, we also focused on two subsets of constituencies, first, which it won in both 2019 and 2024 and second, which it won in 2019 but lost in 2024.

Our analysis of the first subset suggests that in constituencies that the BJP won, it could not hold on to its 2019 vote share. For example, in the 32 seats in UP that the BJP won in both 2019 and 2024, its average vote share declined by 11 percentage points. Similarly, across the 14 seats in Rajasthan and the 6 seats in Maharashtra that BJP managed to win in both 2019 and 2024, its average vote share declined by 7 percentage points. Emblematic of this trend, even PM’s vote share in Varanasi fell from around 64% in 2019 to 54% in 2024. This is lower than the 56% vote share he won against Arvind Kejriwal in 2014.

Turning to the second subset, we see that in these seats the BJP’s average vote share fell by around 10 percentage points. Most notably, in the 10 seats of Rajasthan that the BJP won in 2019 but lost in 2024, its average vote share declined by around 16 percentage points. Similarly in the 17 seats in Maharashtra that it won in 2019 but lost in 2024, its average vote share fell by around 10 percentage points.

In conclusion, constituency-level analysis helps address the two contentions we started with.

We find, first, that BJP managed to increase its footprint in eastern and southern states. While this did not compensate for the BJP’s seat loss in its stronghold, it nearly reversed the decline in its vote share. Though such states account for only about one-fourth of the total seats in the Lok Sabha, this is substantial enough to give pause to detractors of the BJP in drawing any pan-India message from the verdict. Second, we find that a significant chunk of BJP voters moved away in states traditionally considered its bastion, with the notable exceptions of Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. This decline cannot be attributed to local factors in a few constituencies. While Opposition unity may have led to the consolidation of the non-BJP votes in UP, a large decline in the BJP’s average vote share in 191 constituencies across several states suggests that there was voter dissatisfaction with the BJP. Whether this decline in the BJP’s vote share is because of anti-incumbency, local factors, or because of the government’s policies and ideological push, is a question that future research will need to address.

Deepankar Basu teaches economics at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and Kartik Misra teaches economics at Sewanee: The University of the South. The views expressed are personal

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