The rise of the floating voter

With 39.7 per cent of the votes and 75.7 per cent of the seats, the BJP scores the best performance recorded by any party in Uttar Pradesh since the Janata Party victory in 1977.

Written by Gilles Verniers | Updated: March 13, 2017 10:50 am
State assembly poll results 2017, UP poll results 2017, uttarakhand results 2017, BJP win, BJP government, Presidential elections, india news, indian express news Celebrations at the BJP’s UP headquarters in Lucknow after the unprecedented victory in the assembly election, Saturday. Tashi Tobgyal

It would be tempting to say that the results of the 2017 state elections in Uttar Pradesh speak for themselves. A rapid look at the numbers provides more detail on the magnitude of the BJP’s victory and the defeat of its opponents. With 39.7 per cent of the votes and 75.7 per cent of the seats, the BJP scores the best performance recorded by any party in Uttar Pradesh since the Janata Party victory in 1977. It tops the Congress’s 1985 vote share (39.3 per cent) as well as Indira Gandhi’s seat share when she returned to power in 1980 (72.7 per cent).

If we only consider the 384 seats where the BJP contested, the vote share increases to 41.5 per cent, which is nearly equivalent to its 42.5 per cent vote share in 2014. The party’s strike rate, or the ratio of seats won against seats contested, is equally impressive and fairly stable through the seven phases of the elections.

Despite reports of Jat discontent vis a vis the BJP, the party scored its highest strike rate in the first phase of the election, in western Uttar Pradesh. It won 64 of the 73 seats it contested in phase 1, that is, an 87.7 per cent strike rate. The BJP’s strike rate maintained itself at around 80 per cent in the next four phases, decreasing slightly to 71 and 75 per cent in the last two phases. This means that the prime minister’s increased involvement towards the end of the campaign enabled the BJP to maintain its earlier performance, but did not raise it further.

The party’s performance in terms of vote share remains broadly the same compared to 2014. If anything, it is even more evenly spread across the state. Only in western Uttar Pradesh does the BJP vote share decrease significantly, from 50 per cent to 43.3 per cent. But the dispersion of votes between the Congress-Samajwadi Party alliance, the BSP and the RLD enabled it to bag most of the seats. And just like in 2014, the victory margins of the BJP were high, at 15.4 per cent on average. They were also much higher than its opponents’ margins, at 9.9, 4.16 and 9.6 per cent for the SP, BSP and Congress, respectively.

With 12 per cent of the seats, the SP has registered its worst performance since its creation in 1993. Its 21 per cent vote share is deceptive, since it contested only 305 seats. In those seats, the SP vote share rises to 28.3 per cent, roughly equivalent to its 2012 performance. With only 22 per cent of the vote share in the seats it contested, the Congress clearly dragged the alliance down. Its strike rate is extremely low — an average of 8 per cent. This could either mean that Congress candidates failed to obtain support from local SP supporters, or that its own base has shrunk since 2012. In the best case scenario, the alliance with the Congress helped the SP maintain its overall 2012 position.

These elections also confirm the decline of the BSP. With 22 per cent, the BSP has lost four points compared to 2012, and only slightly increased its 2014 vote share of 19 per cent. Its base among Jatav Dalits has probably remained intact, which means that the BSP has lost the ability to attract votes from other groups. It used to do that by distributing tickets to members of locally dominant groups — OBCs, upper castes or others — whose job was to bring in votes of their own. These votes would then add to the party’s Dalit base. Since 2007, other parties, including the SP, have emulated that strategy and have complemented it with powerful general interest-oriented narratives. By contrast, the BSP’s failure to display a broad narrative prevented it from attracting voters beyond its core support base and the local networks of its candidates.

These elections also put a halt to a 20-year trend of increased representation of minorities. Muslims had acquired proportionate representation for the first time in 2012, with 17 per cent of the seats. They are now down to 6 per cent of the seats, that is 25 seats (7 on a BSP ticket, 16 with the SP and 2 with the Congress). Only 11 of the 68 sitting MLAs have been re-elected.

This signifies a double strategic failure for Mayawati. In all probability, the Dalit vote and the vote of the Muslims did not consolidate, and the large number of tickets distributed to Muslim candidates (97) did not help to attract many voters outside these two groups. This further confirms that strategies that are based on exclusive caste combinations are doomed to fail.

How do we explain the BJP’s performance? There is no doubt that the figure of the prime minister was the main draw for non-traditional BJP voters. The PM’s image and voice have been omnipresent since his 2014 victory. Beyond that, can we interpret the BJP victory as a plebiscite for his policies? The honest response is that we do not yet have the data to back this assertion. It is safer at this stage to assume that the reasons to vote for the BJP have probably been as diverse as the composition of its electorate, and that significant or spectacular policy interventions such as demonetisation have contributed to the BJP’s success.

What emerges clearly from these elections, and which should be confirmed by incoming surveys, is that the size of the floating electorate, or undecided voters, keeps increasing election after election. These “floating voters” might be more concentrated among the lower OBCs, but they are also found in every caste and caste group. This makes the caste-centric strategies of parties less effective, especially in elections with a high voter turnout, compared to factors of leadership and broad party image.

The writer is assitant professor of political science at Ashoka University

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First Published on: March 13, 2017 1:12 am
  1. P
    Mar 13, 2017 at 3:35 am
    Ujjawala scheme cylinders distributed to 60 Lakhs in UP alone,,,now wife husband = approx 1crore voter,,,if u add their Father mother(ke saas sasur),,,data becomes close to approx 2 crore(I have taken worst case scenario other wise it will cross 2.5 crore),,,,,,,,so 2 crore voters got a direct influence due to LPG scheme out of 14 crore registered voters in UP,,,,,,this is 15%,,,,,it is a huge huge figure to turn the election winds
    1. %
      %23REPEAL article
      Mar 12, 2017 at 10:57 pm
      Weaker sections and poor people have voted over whelming for BJP as they think that by taking steps such as demonitization, Ujjwala yojana Modi has done great favour to them.
      1. K
        K SHESHU
        Mar 13, 2017 at 2:27 pm
        Money , media, mafia. ... Won !
        1. A
          ak dev
          Mar 13, 2017 at 3:54 am
          Two Princes' empty rhetoric couldn't fool people.
          1. G
            George Cruz
            Mar 14, 2017 at 2:44 pm
            The truth is that India is a fast developing democratic/secular country in South Asia with highest percentage educated electorate and their verdict unanimously in UP is for the inclusive and development oriented BJP. The parties which have pla divisive caste politics have lost big in UP.
            1. K
              Mar 14, 2017 at 1:08 pm
              Rather they refused to learn.
              1. M
                Mar 14, 2017 at 2:18 am
                I and many other readers would welcome dispionate, yet deeply analytical, essays like this one by Professor Verniers. Sad to note that most other columnists in this paper, like PBM and Varshney, are propaists against the BJP, saying this victory is 'not legitimate' etc.,.. only exception, imo, is Surjit Bhalla. He is sharp and dispionate.
                1. M
                  Mar 14, 2017 at 2:24 am
                  May be.. I see that, due to Modiji's appeal, In many parts of India, the upper middle income Indians are giving up subsidised gas cylinders. I know of many in my neighbourhood who have done this. So, Modiji's rational socialism is clearly appealing to many Indians. Note that he is helping the poor, not just only through 'freebies'. He is encouraging them to come out of poverty through their own efforts. He is giving them DIGNITY. They know it too.
                  1. M
                    Mayuri Choudhary
                    Mar 13, 2017 at 9:38 am
                    Very well put!
                    1. M
                      Mahender Goriganti
                      Mar 13, 2017 at 1:39 am
                      Bottom line is people are fed up with media and political parties spewing out nonsense in the name of secularism while promoting cast and communal politics into every aspect of life. All Indians have started to say "We Indians" ; not - I am this you are that;br/gt;Moreover everything anything against Hindus is considered secular and any just cause of Hindus is considered communal from any read of news, TV, pseudo intellects/armchair pundits.
                      1. M
                        madhukar nikam
                        Mar 14, 2017 at 10:05 am
                        Sensible article
                        1. N
                          Mar 13, 2017 at 10:48 am
                          Historical VICTORY FOR BJP in UP Election .
                          1. P
                            Parth Garg
                            Mar 13, 2017 at 5:52 am
                            In fact the BJP win in UP was the victory of caste and religion based pseudo-nationalism.
                            1. R
                              Mar 13, 2017 at 4:55 am
                              Kudos to the electorate in UP who rejected both Mayawati and Mulayam. Whereas the woman represents rabid casteism in its crudest form, the man represents unabashed promotion of his clan. It seems the mes saw through the machinations of both, so much so that even Muslims rebuffed them. Hopefully, BJP will rise above the base instincts, and work for the welfare of all. If only the electorate in neighboring Bihar had been as prudent, the state would have been on its way to steady development.
                              1. S
                                Mar 13, 2017 at 6:56 pm
                                The editor of IE is an a s s.
                                1. H
                                  Mar 13, 2017 at 10:15 am
                                  No lessons learned by Aaptards.
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