This election has created new trends and narratives even as it has sharpened old ones, says Rukmini S. through an analysis of electoral data

High voter turnouts are frequently believed to be indicative of anti-incumbency. Following the record-breaking 66.7 per cent voter turnout this time, political parties and some in the media declared that this meant that the country had voted for change. Yet The Hindu’s analysis shows that there was no such relationship in this election.

Using constituency-level voter turnout data compiled by Srinivas Ramani of the Economic and Political Weekly, The Hindu compared turnouts with the likelihood of an incumbent getting re-elected or losing his or her seat. We found a weak positive, statistically significant correlation between high turnouts and the likelihood of an incumbent retaining his or her seat. This means that constituencies which witnessed high turnouts were actually slightly more likely to return an incumbent, and implies that high turnouts do not directly translate into anti-incumbency. The likelihood of losing one’s seat was also very weakly correlated and statistically insignificant with an increase in turnout: constituencies that suddenly witnessed a higher turnout than in 2009 were not decisively voting for a change in leadership. Sanjay Kumar, director of the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), leads its National Election Studies. “I don’t know how this idea that high turnout is associated with anti-incumbency has persisted from generation to generation,” he says. “This relationship has never existed.”

Looking at the 30 Assembly elections that have taken place over the last five years, Mr. Kumar found that 24 elections saw a high voter turnout, but 12 returned the incumbent and 12 brought in a new party. Going back 20 more years and looking at 110 more Assembly elections, he found the data equally inconclusive.

Youth and the BJP

The second most commonly repeated story of this election was that the youth were going to swing this election. The Hindu found that in all but one of the 20 Assembly segments across the country with the highest proportion of 18-19 year-old first-time voters (they all happen to be in Madhya Pradesh and Jharkhand) belong to parliamentary constituencies that voted for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Given the scale of the party’s win, however, that number on its own does not tell the complete story.

Historically, the vote share of parties has always been the same among youth voters and the general population, i.e. the youth of a constituency vote in largely the same proportion as older voters for each party. Young voters also do not appear to want different things from the candidates than other voters — the issues they identify as being key to their decisions have usually been the same as for others, CSDS has found in the past.

However, in this election, young voters were more likely to say that decisive leadership mattered to them than others, CSDS’ pre-poll surveys found. In its post-poll survey, the organisation has found that the vote share for the BJP among the youth was 5 per cent higher than for the general population, showing that the youth did indeed particularly prefer the party and its prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi, Mr. Kumar said. With just over 10 percentage points separating the vote shares of the BJP and the incumbent Congress, the youth vote could have made a big part of the difference in this election.

With the exception of West Bengal, the ten big States with the highest proportion of young voters — the others being Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Assam, Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh and Bihar — all saw big swings toward the BJP, while aging Tamil Nadu and Kerala largely resisted the Modi wave, The Hindu found.

Muslims and the Congress

Finally, this election was expected to witness an unusually high religious polarisation following Mr. Modi’s elevation and the charged campaign that followed. With the party sweeping across the country, including in seats like Chandni Chowk in Delhi which has a large Muslim population, experts declared that Muslims voted in large numbers for the BJP this time. CSDS’ analysis has found that the truth is quite the opposite.

For the last six elections since 1996, the vote share of the Congress among Muslims has been about 33 per cent, Mr. Kumar said. However, for the first time, this proportion has risen to 44 per cent. “There is undoubtedly a big increase in Muslim polarisation toward the Congress,” Mr. Kumar said.

Moreover, in bipolar states like Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh, where the Muslim vote share for the Congress goes even higher into the 70s, it rose above 90 per cent in this election.

Not only has a significant proportion of Muslims appeared not to have voted for the BJP, but the representation of Muslims in Parliament has dropped to a historic low.

rukmini.shrinivasan@thehindu.co.in

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