Lok Sabha Elections 2019: Who benefits from higher voter turnout?
New Delhi, May 16: With May 23 fast approaching, high voter turnout, or the lack of it, is one of the hot topics of debate in the period between election and counting day. The country may see the highest voter turnout since Independence in the ongoing Lok Sabah polls if the first six rounds, which clocked more than 63 per cent polling, is any indication.
But the increase in voting has only added to the speculations over who might win, what is being considered as, the tightly fought contest between the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party and the united opposition.
According to reports, the 2019 election is expected to achieve record voter turnout of around 67 per cent (55 - 56 million new voters relative to 2014 general elections), which would be much higher than the record of 66.4 per cent during the 2014 polls.
As per the data available with the Election Commission of India (ECI), voter turnout in the first four phases stood at 69.5 per cent (first phase), 69.44 per cent (second phase), 68.4 per cent (third phase) 65.51 per cent (fourth phase), over 62 per cent (fifth phase) and 63.48 per cent (sixth phase)
For the record, BJP workers are hoping that the party's well-oiled machinery and the help of Sangh Parivar organisations might be the reason behind the higher turnout. The Congress workers feel that the anti-incumbency against the Narendra Modi government is reflecting in the higher turnout.
Statistics so far
Normally, political pundits consider a higher voter turnout as an indication of anti-incumbency. Interestingly, the voter participation was high in the key Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) bastions of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat and Assam, ever since 1962 or in last 57 years since Independence.
Chhattisgarh has seen 15 years and Maharashtra 30 years high in voter turnout.
Mumbai registered a voter turnout of 55.1 per cent, which is the highest for the city since 1989, the report said.
In Assam, Bihar, UP, Andhra, Kerala, Chhattisgarh, MP (partial) and Rajasthan (partial) the polling percentage of younger voters in the 18-25 age bracket) on an average is more than national average, there is a 3.3 per cent increase in voter turnout (additional 4.5 million), says SBI Research.
States like Maharashtra where the elderly population is higher than the national average has witnessed an increase in voter turnout, though marginally.
In Karnataka and Kerala that are relatively older states (8.6 per cent elderly population, that is much higher than the national average) there is also an increased 1.8 per cent more voting (or 1.1 million).
What the past trend shows
In the ten elections between 1977 and 2009, the rise or fall in voter turnout (in percentage terms) is equally divided at five each. But the incumbent has been replaced 7 times while it has been retained 3 times. There have been hung Parliaments and some 'mili-juli sarkars' (bunch of parties coming together to form governments) have got support by BJP and Congress.
Interestingly, out of the three times that governments have retained their position, the Congress in 1984 (after the Indira Gandhi assassination, the growth was highest at 6.64 per cent) and UPA in 2009, the voter turnout was higher. In 1999, when the NDA (BJP-led) retained their government, the voter turnout was less.
When the BJP-led NDA coalition replaced the United Front government (supported by the Congress) in 1998, there was a higher voter turnout by slightly-over 4 per cent.
Meanwhile, Centre for the Study of Developing Societies-Lokniti pre-poll survey appeared to show that BJP voters were much more enthusiastic about going out and voting:
"In other words, NDA [the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance] voters are more likely to turn out and vote and non-NDA voters are less likely to turnout to vote," the report said. "It is clear that if the UPA [the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance] and the non-UPA parties do not get their act together, the levels of eagerness among their supporters is not likely to increase as voting day approaches."
All are not convinced
But not all are convinced it will be the BJP that benefits the most from this high turnout.
It is a wave when it is a sweep in a favour of a party or a combine. The BJP seems to be doing well in some pockets, but there are other places where it is doing only marginally well.
In 2018, Milan Vaishnav and Jonathan Guy published a paper in the journal, Studies in Indian Politics, which looked at data from 18 major Indian state elections between 1980 and 2012.
"Despite the popularity of the notion that citizens come out to the polls in greater numbers when they are motivated to punish the incumbent government, our analyses of three decades of electoral data uncover no such relationship," the paper concludes.
We will only know how accurate this will be once the votes are counted on May 23.