The unsigned blog: How BJP learnt the difference between average and marginal, the hard way

Average voters are very crucial - when their number dwindles, which often is a slow and long drawn process, the party loses standing.

Updated: November 10, 2015 2:10 pm
A BJP party worker takes a quick nap at the party's headquarters in New Delhi. Reuters A BJP party worker takes a quick nap at the party’s headquarters in New Delhi. Reuters

I, like every other student of Economics, have stories about my early struggles at mastering the concept of “average” and “marginal”. First it was Average Cost vs Marginal Cost. Then it moved to “Average Propensity to Consume” versus “Marginal Propensity to Consume”. As years went by, the understanding of the concept became clearer.

The end of student life did not, however, mean the end of struggles with the difference between the “average” and the “marginal”. At work places, one struggled between advocating user charges based on average cost or marginal cost. Let me not bore you with details, but believe me, the implications between choosing one over the other can often be staggering.

This fundamental principle hit me with a staggering force while I was watching the Bihar election results this Sunday. How did the things change so decisively for the NDA [or JD(U)] just in a span of 18 months? The answer, to me, lies in understanding the difference between understanding the demands of your “average voter” and “marginal voter”. The average voter is your cadre, your committed voter, who is likely to stick with you for many years, many elections. He will condone your lapses and give you many chances. Average voters are very crucial – when their number dwindles, which often is a slow and long drawn process, the party loses standing. Take Congress in Bihar. Most of its average voters had left Congress, not suddenly, but over a long period of time. in the 2010 Assembly elections, Congress got four seats. In 2014 Lok Sabha, it drew a blank!

Prime Minister Narendra Modi at a parliamentary party meeting called to review their Bihar poll performance. PTI Photo Prime Minister Narendra Modi at a parliamentary party meeting called to review their Bihar poll performance. PTI Photo

BJP has been assiduously building up a base of its average voters since the famous Rath Yatra. One of the core traits of the average BJP voter is disillusionment with the concept of secularism practised by the Congress government or plain aversion to the dynastic rule of and in the Congress. But as with the reliance on average pricing model, a firm can’t maximise its sales or profits. To get in marginal voters, development got added to agenda in 2014. The huge focus on development was akin to focus on marginal voters. It reminded me of the marginal pricing principle. Not surprisingly, the votes got maximised and BJP got a clear majority.

And then began the confusion. The doubt. Should the party return to concerns of the average voters? Recall the pricing principle: if a firm can equate its price with the average cost without losing customers, it will rake in profits. The problem is that when you do that, your demand goes down, as marginal customers no longer buy your product. As we now know, BJP decided to reward its average voters. It focussed on their concerns. The marginal voters did what the customers do under such circumstances. They did not buy the product! The vote percentage dropped. Not significantly as their average voters continued to put their faith in the party. But the marginal voters who had maximised the reward to BJP in Bihar 2014 withdrew their favour. Their was a slight drop in the vote percentage.

But the impact on the bottomline was telling!

PS.: It did not help that the two biggest rival firms had tied up and launched a glitzy door to door campaign.

– The author is a bureaucrat who does not wish to be identified. Views expressed are personal.

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  1. C
    Nov 12, 2015 at 3:03 pm
    Many write and think due to strategist Amit shah, BJP own General election in 2014, if you say in BJP language, even you picked a dog as candidate in 2014 against could have won....It is just a bubble..busted now..His time ended already. In such a small state like Delhi, he strategy did not work....
  2. R
    Nov 11, 2015 at 2:45 am
    If you are really an Economist as you claim, then you should know that there is no such thing as "Average". The "Average" of anything hides a lot of details (very high & low numbers with very different characteristics) and no Economist, Marketer, or Statistician makes any strategy based on the concept of "Average". I think you need to go back to School to brush up on your concepts of Average and its implications. I wonder who made you a bureaucrat and offered you space on a global platform to propagate your half-baked knowledge and insights.
  3. A
    Nov 11, 2015 at 9:32 am
    So does that make Swapan Dasgupta and Tavleen Singh 'average' or 'marginal' court bards ?
  4. A
    Nov 11, 2015 at 1:30 am
    Brilliant. But I don't think sanghis are educated enough (sure, some of them went to school or college, but that's not the same thing as getting educated) to get either the sarcasm or the economics of it. The party is looking like a donkey riding a cow to win an F1 race.
  5. A
    Arvind Rajashekar
    Nov 10, 2015 at 11:21 pm
    Brilliant and succinctly explained, but where are the thinkers in the party to understand this?
  6. B
    Barka Farooki
    Nov 11, 2015 at 1:11 am
    Very good analogy for a rational mind. Irrational Bigots, Jackals & Perverts will call this analogy as Congress theory or ISI implant!
  7. b
    Nov 12, 2015 at 11:54 am
    Bihar has voted for Nitesh s rule,but whether he will be do the job with Lalu and Sonia using their remote control has to be seen The BJP didn't realise the pority of Nitesh in Bihar was equal to that of Modi in the Indian parliament elections. The BJP should get ready to see Nitesh in 2019 as the opposition s PM candidate.That would an fight among two equal opponent's.
  8. K
    Nov 11, 2015 at 2:56 am
    Everything in India is done by the uneduacted mann-key man Gujju-bhai, and his bloated alter-ego manitor Gujju-bhai. The w of India is at the mercy of these two Gujju-bhais. This is a disaster for the country. All India is waiting for Mr Nitish Kumar to be the next PM. The current one, the mann-key man, needs to be thrown out. No Indians I meet like the mann-key man. All he is good for is to make foreign trips at taxpayers' expense, and look for opportunities for his sponsors like Adani. By booting out the mann-key man, the intelligent Biharis have decided the way the Indian political scenario is going to be rolled out over the next 4-5 years. Thank you dear Bihari brothers and sisters. Mr Nitish Kumar is India's PM in 2019.
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