The 2014 general elections were a watershed moment in Indian electoral politics where after a quarter century of coalition politics a single party had won a majority in the Lok Sabha. BJP’s feat of attaining majority on its own was highly commendable when one considers the vastly divided polity in India over the past few decades. This outlier performance has however raised questions if this is repeatable in the next general elections in 2019. Some have already written of the BJP from winning again in 2019 calling the 2014 performance as fluke performance or “black swan” event.
Looking at the past 6 elections (1996, 1998, 1999, 2004, 2009 & 2014) the winner be it BJP or INC has usually captured around 25 to 28% of the national vote share with 2014 being the only outlier where BJP captured 31.3% vote share.
The vote share of INC (Indian National Congress) fluctuated between 26.1 to 28.8% in the five elections prior to 2014 before bottoming out at 19.5% in 2014. BJP’s vote share was around 20% in 1996, grew to 25.6% but steadily declined in the next 3 elections to bottom out at just less than 19% in 2009 before the massive spike up to 31.3% in 2014. Due to the votes being distributed over a large non-homogenous country like India there is no perfect correlation between vote share and the seats won. With BJP facing anti-incumbency due to it being in power in New Delhi & with a vast majority of state capitals an erosion of this 31.3% vote share in 2019 is to be expected. How much of loss in vote share will the BJP actually experience & importantly will it still stay in power post 2019 are questions that I will look to answer here.
There is certainly some dissatisfaction among the electorate caused by a whole host of factors but the BJP still remains the most popular party in India. One can foresee that the Modi wave from 2014 abates a little with the BJP’s national vote share probably dipping down from 31.3% to somewhere between 28 to 30% range i.e. a relative (not absolute) vote share erosion of 5 to 10%. These 5 to 10% voters of BJP in 2014 could now potentially in 2019 either vote for the opposition candidate (cross over voters) or choose to note vote/abstain or select the NOTA option.
The final results can vary depending on which of these 2 options these voters decide to do. For e.g. Candidate A has 5500 votes & Candidate B has 4500 votes, the winning margin % is 10%. Now let’s say if 10% of voters of Candidate A (550) switch their vote to Candidate B then Candidate B (4500+550=5050) wins as he has more votes than A (5500-550=4950). However let’s say out of the 10% voters of Candidate A only 5 % switch their vote to B & the other 5% abstain then still candidate A (5500-550 = 4950) wins over Candidate B (4500+275 = 4775). This small difference of switching your vote to another party vs not voting could have huge implications as I will allude to later on in the article.
INC & BJP Winning Margin%, Seats Won & Runner-Up (Seats Lost)
INC won 30 of their seats with under 10% winning margin & only 14 seats were won comfortably (i.e. >10% winning margin). This makes the 30 seats possibly susceptible to being targeted by either the BJP or regional parties contesting against INC. INC did finish runner up in 224 seats a number which did shock me initially when I looked at it. Almost 100 (40%) of these loses were a gigantic 20+% margin shows the severity of the drubbing the INC received in 2014. On the bright side the only way is up which gives INC ample opportunities to pick up seats in 2019. 66 seats could in its sights for pick-ups where in seats where it lost by <10% margin.
Looking above at the winning margin % for BJP candidates we see that 210 of all BJP MP have won their seats by double digits (>10%) which provide some buffer against vote attrition in the next election cycle. A simple 5 % vote transfer from BJP to the runner up candidate would mean that all seats won by BJP with < 10% winning margin would be under threat of losing. Before I go further, a word of caution. When we say that a candidate who is ahead by 10% and loses due to a 5% vote transfer we assume the following: Each and every vote that moves over from the winner now goes to the runner up only & not to the third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh,… place candidate. They could very well go to the other candidates not helping the runner up candidate to close the gap to the winner. We see a lot of tactics in Indian politics such as dummy candidates, vote cutter candidates, rebel candidates which could mean that transference of votes to the runner up is by no means guaranteed. However a perfect vote transference of as little as 5% away from BJP to the runner up could bring down the BJP tally to 210 (=282-29-43) a survivable number that is not disastrous. If there is a 10% decline in the BJP vote share with perfect vote transference to the runner up it would be a disaster as BJP only has 120 safe seats. Conversely BJP finished runner up in 55 seats out of which 27 were lost by <10% margin. These would be targets for the BJP to win this time around to compensate for the loss of existing seats.
However by simply removing all the seats won by BJP less than certain winning % and forecasting the BJP seat count for 2019 is a very high level generalization which would not work especially in a country as diverse as India. A more nuanced state by state analysis needs to be undertaken based on local sentiment & alliance partners to get a more robust view of the present situation.
Part 2 will focus on the Classification of the BJP contests and a state by state analysis of individual contests.