Number Theory: What a three-way contest entails for Gujarat polls

Updated on Nov 24, 2022 07:52 PM IST

If the AAP does manage to get a vote share in Gujarat to reckon with and the contest does become triangular, what impact will it have on the state’s politics?

Supporters of Prime Minister Narendra Modi during a BJP public meeting ahead of Gujarat Assembly election in Bhavnagar. (PTI) PREMIUM
Supporters of Prime Minister Narendra Modi during a BJP public meeting ahead of Gujarat Assembly election in Bhavnagar. (PTI)
ByAbhishek Jha and Roshan Kishore, Hindustan Times, New Delhi

Political contests in the state of Gujarat, after the 1990 assembly election, have been always bipolar with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the first place and the Congress in the second. Aam Admi Party’s (AAP) entry in the electoral contest this time may change this long-term trend in the western state, which is also the BJP’s strongest bastion (it is a measure of the party’s dominance that it has more than one). If the AAP does manage to get a vote share to reckon with and the contest does become triangular, what impact will it have on the state’s politics? Here are four charts that answer this question.

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Gujarat has not had a ‘third player’ in elections since 1990

An HT analysis of past election results using the Trivedi Centre for Political Data (TCPD) database shows that Gujarat saw greater political fragmentation before 1990 than in the period after that. In the 2017 assembly elections, the top two parties in the state, the BJP and Congress had a combined vote share of 90%. This number has not been lower than 80% in all assembly elections since 1998. Things were very different in the 1990 assembly election when the Janata Dal finished as the largest party and the BJP and the Congress finished in second and third position.

Also Read| The rise and fall of the third front in Gujarat’s electoral arena

An analysis of pre-1990 assembly elections in Gujarat (the earliest numbers are for 1962) also shows that the combined vote share of the top two parties was lower than 80% in all elections except 1967. A comparison of median Effective Number of Parties (ENOP) – it is the reciprocal of the sum of the squares of vote shares of all candidates in a given constituency, and higher values indicate a multipolar contest – for past assembly elections in Gujarat also supports this argument.

CSDS Lokniti pre-poll survey suggests the AAP is primarily eating into Congress votes

A pre-poll survey conducted by CSDS Lokniti in October shows that the AAP is expected to get a vote share of 22% in Gujarat. If these numbers turn out to be true – pre-poll surveys are often off the mark – then AAP’s growth will primarily be at the cost of the Congress, which is expected to see a drop of around 20 percentage points from its 2017 vote share. To be sure, the post-poll survey of the 2017 Gujarat elections by CSDS Lokniti showed that voter preferences changed significantly as polling came closer. According to an analysis based on CSDS-Lokniti’s surveys in The Hindu (published December 19, 2017), 43% voters decided their voting preference in the final two weeks of campaigning in 2017. The BJP was the primary beneficiary of this pivot, with Hindu voters’ preference for the BJP increasing by seven percentage points between November (when the pre-poll survey was conducted) and early December, which is when the polls were held.

Seat shares might be trickier to predict than vote shares in Gujarat

This is where the vagaries of the first-past-the-post system come into play. If one were to mechanically halve the Congress’s 2017 vote share in every AC, as the CSDS poll shows at the state level, and do similar adjustments for the BJP and the combined vote share of other parties and give the remaining votes to the AAP, the BJP’s seat tally will reach an overwhelming 172 in the 182-member assembly. As is obvious, this is an extremely unlikely outcome, the reason being, vote shares of parties always have a significant variation at the assembly constituency (AC) level. An AC-wise distribution of the AAP’s debut in assembly elections in Delhi (2013) and Punjab (2017) shows clearly that the headline vote share at the state level was not distributed evenly at the AC level.

This is where AAP’s regional impact in Gujarat will come into play. A comparison of the last two Gujarat assembly election results (ACs of the elections before 2012 aren’t comparable because of delimitation) shows that Gujarat is no exception to the regional dominance of parties. The BJP’s victory margin was 10% (or greater) of the total votes polled in 53 out of the 182 ACs in both 2012 and 2017 elections. But 24 ACs have always seen a tight contest with victory margin of the winning party being less than 5%. As is obvious, the same magnitude of shifting votes ( to AAP from the Congress) will have a very different impact on AC level results in this context. Of course, the final vote share figures could turn out to be very different from the CSDS Lokniti projections.

If a significant division of votes does take place between the AAP and the Congress then the BJP might end up improving its seat tally significantly as the vote share threshold required for winning an AC will come down. The best way to understand this argument is to look at the BJP’s seat share to vote share ratio – it is a useful metric to measure a party’s ability to convert votes into seats in an FPTP system – in past elections in Gujarat. This number was at its lowest since 1995 (the first time the BJP captured power in Gujarat) in the 2017 elections, which was the closest Gujarat has been to a completely bipolar contest.

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