Do higher turnouts in MP and Rajasthan show Congress’s core voters are back?
Both states have recorded a significantly higher voter turnout than what they did in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.Updated: May 08, 2019, 14:21 IST
Higher voter turnout numbers so far in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh may suggest a closer contest in these two states that together send 54 representatives to Parliament, although there’s no telling how this will play out in terms of number of seats. Voter turnout figures after the fifth round of polling for the 2019 general elections suggest that Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh are turning out to be outliers among major states.
Both states have recorded a significantly higher voter turnout than what they did in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. To be sure, voting is yet to take place in 16 out of 29 parliamentary constituencies (PCs) in Madhya Pradesh. However, the PCs which have voted so far have registered a large increase in turnout. (See Chart 1)
What explains this seemingly extraordinary trend? An HT analysis suggests that it could be a reflection of restoration of political competition between the BJP and the Congress unlike in 2014, when a BJP victory was almost a forgone conclusion. Here’s why.
Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh recorded a turnout of 75.6% and 72.6% in the 2013 assembly elections. This fell sharply to 63.1% and 61.6% in the 2014 Lok Sabha. The numbers went up once again to 74.8% and 75.6% in the 2018 assembly elections. The 2019 turnout figures seem to be aligned more to the 2018 and 2013 figures rather than the 2014 numbers. Looking at absolute number of votes can help us understand why this happened. Total number of votes polled went down from 30.9 million and 33.9 million in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh in 2013 to 27.1 million and 29.7 million in 2014. The BJP marginally increased its absolute number of votes between these elections. It was the Congress and other non-BJP parties which saw their total number of votes come down between 2013 and 2014.
The BJP achieved huge victories in direct contests against the Congress in the 2013 assembly elections in both these states. These victories made it the favourite for the 2014 race.
One possible explanation for the decline in absolute number of voters in these states could be that a section of anti-BJP voters did not go out to vote as they had resigned themselves to an imminent defeat in any case. Similar patterns, although in smaller magnitudes can also be seen in the states of Gujarat and Chhattisgarh, also states where the BJP defeated the Congress in an assembly contest before the 2014 Lok Sabha.
Things changed in each of these states in the assembly elections held after 2014. Absolute number of voters went up and it was the Congress rather than the BJP which added voters compared to its 2014 tally.
(See Chart 2)
The only other big state which had experienced a decline in the number of total votes between the preceding assembly election (2013) and 2014 Lok Sabha is Karnataka. However, both the national parties increased their absolute number of votes between the 2013 and 2014 elections. It was the regional player Janata Dal (Secular) whose votes went down. This could be a result of lack of enthusiasm among JD(S) voters due to lower stakes in a national poll.
To be sure, decline in number of voters between a preceding assembly election and Lok Sabha election is not something which happened for the first time in 2014. Even in 2009, eight major states (Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Punjab, Rajasthan, and Tamil Nadu) experienced a decline in the absolute number of votes without a decline in number of electors.
However, unlike in 2014, the costs and benefits of a decline in number of voters were not limited to one party like in 2014. For example, in Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, and Rajasthan, both the BJP and the Congress suffered an absolute decline in their
number of votes between 2008 assembly and 2009 Lok Sabha elections.