The CSDS survey shows that while the BJP is ahead, the better geographical spread of the Congress across the country and in States gives it an advantage

Though the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has dramatically improved its national vote share as per CNN-IBN-The Hindu-Election Tracker survey 2013, conducted by Lokniti-Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), Delhi, what is very significant is that the party’s vote to seat conversion ratio has remained stagnant, the same as in 2009. The BJP got six Lok Sabha seats for every one per cent of the national vote it garnered in 2009. Thus, on a national vote share of 19 per cent it got 116 Lok Sabha seats. As per the current survey, if elections were held today the BJP would get 156-164 seats on an increased vote share of 27 per cent. The multiplier factor remains more or less the same — at six. Normally, if there is a general momentum of support in favour of a party, which the CSDS survey seems to indicate for the BJP in north and central India, one would have expected the vote share to seat multiplier ratio to also go up. This hasn’t happened. Had the BJP’s vote to seat multiplier gone up one notch, say seven seats for every one per cent vote, the BJP’s Lok Sabha seats tally would go up to as much as 190! Indeed, this is the importance of the vote to seat multiplier. Sometimes, a party’s vote share can drop by a few percentage points but a higher vote to seat conversion ratio can more than compensate in terms of more seats.

This is the most tricky part of projecting Lok Sabha seat outcomes. Which is why The Hindu had entered the caveat at the very beginning that the conversion of vote share into seats is an exercise fraught with uncertainties. However, the CSDS’s general finding that the BJP’s vote to seat multiplier remains as it was in 2009 would be viewed as good news by the Congress. At least this ensures that the BJP on its own, in spite of a big shift of vote share in its favour, will not come anywhere near 200 seats which the Congress had managed the last time round.

On the other hand, the Congress’s vote share to seat multiplier drops from seven seats for every one per cent vote to less than five seats if elections were held today. That explains why the Congress gets just 131-139 seats in spite of maintaining its national vote share at 28 per cent, as against 29 per cent in 2009.

The overall result would seem to keep the Congress party very much in the game, in spite of the strong headwinds it faces in terms of the anti-incumbency factor. Going by the CSDS survey, the Congress seems to have managed to arrest its fall. Even though the BJP gains eight per cent vote share nationally, it remains one per cent behind the Congress in overall vote share.

The broad principle is that parties whose popular votes are more evenly spread across regions tend to have better vote to seat conversion ratio. The Congress scores better historically on this count.

The BJP is handicapped because it is virtually non-existent south of the Vindhyas and when it does well in its strongholds in north and central India, its votes get concentrated across fewer constituencies. Consequently, the vote to seat conversion ratio tends to be sub optimal.

Given the uncertainty inherent in the conversion of vote share into Lok Sabha seats, the BJP can still hope for a higher conversion rate which might take it closer to 190 seats. This possibility cannot be ruled out if closer to the general election there is a greater momentum of voter support in favour of the BJP on the ground.

Vote base

Another paradox thrown up by the CSDS survey is the reasonably good performance by the Congress in the cities across the north and south of India where the level of anger and dissatisfaction with the ruling party has been very high. As per the CSDS poll, the BJP will do much better among the urban middle class and recover its traditional vote base. Its vote share among the city dwellers is seen as going up from 19 per cent in 2009 to 33 per cent in 2013. However, the Congress is also retaining its vote share among city dwellers at 29 per cent in 2013 as was the case in 2009.

This is what presents a somewhat confusing picture. Therefore, the vote share to seat conversion becomes very critical. The Congress got 29 per cent national vote share in 2009. It managed to garner just over seven seats for every one per cent vote share to reach 206 seats in the Lok Sabha. This was the Congress’s peak performance in terms of conversion of vote share into seats. Now the anti-incumbency factor has led to the Congress getting a shade less than five seats for every one per cent vote share. Thus, it may still end up with about 135 seats on a national vote share of 28 per cent, the CSDS survey indicates. However, even a 0.5 per cent improvement in the Congress’s vote share to seat conversion ratio could take the Congress’s Lok Sabha seat tally to over 150. There could be many surprises on either side.

Even more interesting is the fact that as the Congress loses about 70 seats from its 2009 tally of 206, the BJP’s gain is no more than 44 seats as per the CSDS survey. So the regional parties actually gain in terms of seats even though their vote share seems to have declined collectively.

Modi factor

Of course the biggest unknown factor in this whole exercise is how Narendra Modi’s leadership will create new disruptions in the way the vote share as well as the multiplier evolves. The BJP’s vote to seat multiplier had peaked under Atal Bihari Vajpayee in 1999. The BJP got about 7.5 Lok Sabha seats for every one per cent vote share under Vajpayee. That performance has not been bettered either by the BJP since then.

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