Since 1985, Karnataka has never voted back a ruling party. The same trend has continued in 2023. Defying many predictions of an Assembly without a clear majority, the Congress received a clear mandate, winning 135 seats in the State and increasing its vote share by close to 5% points. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) more or less retained its vote share, but its seats plummeted by one-third. The Janata Dal (Secular) saw a fall of 5% points in its vote share and a slash in its tally by half (Table 1).
Both the Congress and the BJP invested a lot of time, energy and effort in winning this election. The BJP was keen to retain its only bastion in the south, while the Congress wished to seize the opportunity provided by an unpopular government in the State. The Lokniti-Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) post-poll survey indicates at what point voters made their voting choice. Four of every 10 respondents (39%) asserted that they had decided who to vote for well before the campaign started. A higher percentage of BJP voters took this stand (47%) compared to Congress (37%) and JD(S) (34%) supporters. The declaration of candidates and the campaign seemed to influence three of every 10 voters (29%). A higher percentage of Congress and JD(S) voters said that they had decided who to vote for during this phase. A little over one-fourth of them (28%) said that they had decided at the last minute. One-third of those who voted for the Congress (32%) and the JD(S) (31%) took this stand, while a little less than one-fourth of those who voted for the BJP (23%) held this position. It is thus clear that the choice of candidates and the nature of the campaign influenced the Congress and JD(S) voters more than they influenced the supporters of the BJP (Table 2). The focus on the local, attempted by the Congress and the JD(S), appears to have had a strong impact.
Lokniti-CSDS had conducted an earlier poll during the campaign in which over half the respondents (56%) had said that the party was the crucial factor while voting. For close to four of every 10 (38%), the candidate mattered. The leader mattered for very few. Congress voters were more likely to say that the party mattered more than the candidate, while BJP supporters gave equal importance to both. More than half the JD(S) voters gave greater weightage to the party over the candidate. Given the multiple party switches that Karnataka has seen, popular perception among the supporters of different parties assumes significance (Table 3).
It is clear that the Congress received more or less uniform support across age groups, while the BJP drew greater support from younger voters. The Congress drew greater support as compared to the BJP from those with different educational achievements, except those who had a college degree — a section among which the BJP did better. Congress voters were drawn from both urban and rural areas uniformly, while the BJP had much higher support among urban residents. While the Congress and the BJP secured support from the upper class, among the lower classes there was a 9% point difference between the support for the Congress and the BJP, with the Congress being ahead. The Congress was clearly more successful in building a rainbow social coalition with sizeable support among the Vokkaligas, Kurubas, Dalits, and Muslims. A higher share of tribal people voted for the Congress as compared to the BJP. The BJP performed better among the Lingayats, but its support among this influential segment has seen a decline with three of every 10 Lingayats voting for the Congress. It is clear that the Ahinda (minorities) social coalition that the Congress stitched together was more comprehensive than the one supporting the BJP.
Sandeep Shastri is National Coordinator of the Lokniti Network; Suhas Palshikar taught political science and is chief editor of Studies in Indian Politics; and Sanjay Kumar is Professor and Co-director Lokniti-CSDS