What mattered in a tight race in Himachal Pradesh?

Anti-incumbency aside, voting for a candidate over party, stark difference in voting choices of the affluent and the poor, and the middle-age voters could have tilted balance

Updated - December 12, 2022 11:34 am IST

Published - December 11, 2022 01:07 am IST

Congress leaders and workers celebrate the party’s lead in Himachal Pradesh Assembly elections in Dehradun on December 8, 2022.

Congress leaders and workers celebrate the party’s lead in Himachal Pradesh Assembly elections in Dehradun on December 8, 2022. | Photo Credit: PTI

It happens rarely in the electoral contests in a State that a difference of less than one percentage of votes between the two key contestants, can contribute to one party scampering off to victory and the other left trailing behind. Himachal Pradesh provided one such example. The Congress was ahead of the BJP, by a wafer-thin vote share advantage and was able to win a majority of the seats in the Assembly. In such close contests, even the smallest of vote swings can lead to dramatically different results. The Lokniti-CSDS post-poll in Himachal Pradesh provides some indicators on what could have contributed to the Congress victory in this hill State.

One could always fall back on the argument that since its formation, the State of Himachal Pradesh (save once) has never voted back a ruling party. The ‘revolving door’ policy continues! Yet, BJP made an all-out effort to reverse that trend. It was the home State of BJP’s party president and the Prime Minister too campaigned and made a strong emotional appeal. The top leaders of the BJP were roped in to boost the campaign. The Congress on the other hand launched a low-key campaign focusing on a string of local issues. It was also helped by the fact that AAP did not seriously eat into its votes. In the series of articles, based on our post-poll in Himachal Pradesh, a range of factors have been identified. This piece looks at the big picture in the State.

It is clear that both the Congress and BJP were able to get their committed voters out to vote. In both cases, close to two-thirds of those who voted for them, said that they took that decision well before the campaign began. Congress has a one percentage point advantage in this regard. The campaign, too, did not have an impact and only one-fourth of the BJP voters said that they decided on whom to vote for at the last minute.

In the case of the Congress it was slightly less than one-fourth of its voters who made the choice at the last minute. The two parties had a similar percentage of voters who decided on who to vote for during the campaign. These marginal differences in the approach of committed voters and last minute deciders could have tilted the balance (Table 1).

Another important point of difference between the Congress and the BJP supporters is on whether the party or candidate propelled their vote choice. In the case of the BJP, more than half said it was the party and only four of every ten mentioned the candidates.

On the other hand, in the case of the Congress both factors seem to have played an equal role in determining the vote choice (Table 2). Thus in the case of the Congress, the candidate also mattered and this could have been the impact of local factors in swinging the vote. It is important to record that nine of the ten respondents stated that the work done by the candidates was crucial in deciding whom they would vote for (Table 3).

There is also the clear impact of the economic factor that is elaborated in greater detail in the other articles in this series. The Congress vote share among the poor was much higher than that of the BJP and decreased as one moved to the more affluent sections of society. On the other hand, the reverse was true of the BJP, whose vote share declined as one moved from the affluent to the poor. It is vital to underscore the fact that among the poor the gap between the Congress and the BJP is a massive thirteen percentage points. When it comes to the affluent sections, the BJP led over the Congress by a mere four percentage points and in the middle class the support for the two parties was uniform. For the BJP, there was a ten percentage point drop in votes from among the poor, when compared to the 2017 elections. This could have been the critical factor (Table 4). Especially when issues of healthcare and roads were cited by voters as matters of concern, the performance of the BJP among the economically disadvantaged could be a key factor in explaining their losing the election.

Further, the Congress appears to have done much better than the BJP when it comes to the middle-aged voters. The two parties equally split the younger voters and the BJP appears to have done better among the older respondents. This crucial tilt of the middle-aged voter who again could have focused on concerns relating to price rise and unemployment may have been a crucial factor.

If one were to notice the BJP’s performance across regions, there is a uniform decline in vote share (as compared to 2017) across all regions. The decline is sharp in four crucial areas – Hamirpur, Solan, Kullu and Kinnaur.

The capacity to bring in its committed voters, its focus on local issues and taking advantage of the economic discontent could well have swung the verdict in favour of the Congress party.

Sandeep Shastri [Vice Chancellor at Jagran Lakecity University, Bhopal & the National Co-ordinator of the Lokniti network], Suhas Palshikar [Taught political science and is chief editor of Studies in Indian Politics] and Sanjay Kumar [Professor and Co-director Lokniti-CSDS]

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