Lok Sabha results 2019: BJP’s win margins rose in 2019
Opponents of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) were convinced the BJP’s sweeping victory in 2014 atop the Modi Wave was a black swan event — a rare event that happens by chance and is unlikely to be repeated again. After seeing the results of the 2019 election, we realise the 2014 result was the first step towards political consolidation. Overall, as per the Election Commission’s provisional data by 7 pm on Friday, the BJP won around 303 out the 438 seats it contested for a strike rate of about 68%.
At its core, beyond affirmative support for Prime Minister Narendra Modi, this is a rebuke to the Congress. In 2019, provisional data from the ECI helps underscore the point. In 2019, the BJP and Congress had 191 head-to-head contests, meaning that they were the top two finishers in a constituency. In these 191 constituencies, the BJP won 175 contests for a whopping 92% strike rate against the Congress. In 2014, the BJP had a similarly large strike rate of 86%.
Critics argued then it was a one-off, but we are witnessing now that it was only the first step towards the numbers we are witnessing in 2019.
It is exactly this dynamic that explains the sweeps in the Hindi belt states of Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan in 2019, just like in 2014. In the 185 constituencies that the BJP was competitive (finishing in the top two) against a party other than Congress, its strike rate was 68% (a significant portion due to the BJP’s performance in Uttar Pradesh).
Thus, while the BJP has made inroads to regions outside of its core base in northern and western India, the regional parties in India continue to put up a much better fight than the Congress. (This is to say nothing of the 65 seats in which the BJP is not competitive).
In fact, the inroads the BJP has made can also be partially attributed to the Congress, as it has taken over the opposition space (or more) in states like Odisha, Tripura and West Bengal where the Congress has traditionally been the chief opposition party to a regional power.
The BJP also increased its margins of victory against the Congress in these constituencies, from an average of 16% in 2014 to 20% in 2019. One major storyline for the Congress throughout the election was that rural distress would culminate in a “silent vote” against the BJP for the Congress. But the data show anything but this trend.
The figure displays the predicted victory margins for the BJP in 2014 and 2019 against the 188 seats it competed head-to-head against the Congress using a statistical technique known as LOESS. What is noticeable is a secular increase in the margin of victory between 2014 and 2019, with the greatest gains and highest margins of victory coming in the most rural regions.
How do we explain this spectacular performance of the BJP, especially vis-a-vis the Congress?
First, it is about the personality and popularity of Modi. While a class of analysts is still trying to understand why issues like joblessness and rural distress didn’t cut ice with the electorate, the BJP’s supporters are demonstrating a principle well-known to scholars of voting behaviour.
Voters are drawn to Modi and have decided to vote for him, and are then looking to come up with issues to support the idea — whether it be quality of leadership, standing strong against Pakistan, or centrally sponsored welfare schemes.
Second, it is about the quality of the BJP’s communication with the voter. In a very genuine sense, we have witnessed the first media PM in Modi. This means Modi, from the day he was elected to government, has carefully choreographed his appearances to appeal to the voter and maximise future vote share. It is a phenomenon we have seen in the United States with presidents like Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton, but never in India. The average citizen’s testimonies to the unimpeachable character of Modi testify to this fact. This explains why Congress’ “chowkidar chor hai” (the watchman is the thief) jibe at the Prime Minister fell flat.
Finally, one must marvel at the strength of the BJP’s party machinery, and the financing of that machinery. In the countryside, particularly in the Hindi belt, one will often only find BJP party workers — with the Congress workers missing.
This confers an extraordinary advantage to the BJP, as it has workers to directly communicate the BJP’s and Narendra Modi’s message to the voter, and, of course, minimise its shortcomings.The BJP has built a juggernaut, and it has changed Indian elections. For once, let us not speculate about the future, but let us marvel at the scale of this victory for the BJP.