The traditional social basis of voting in Kerala underwent some important changes this time contributing to the larger than expected victory of the LDF over the UDF. A modest but significant shift was noticed among the Muslim and Christian community, who constitute 27 and 18% of the State’s population, respectively. While the two communities have traditionally voted for the UDF in large numbers and continued to do so this time as well, they also warmed up to the LDF at the expense of smaller players, giving the LDF a further edge over the UDF.
According to Lokniti-CSDS’s post-poll survey data, nearly two-fifths (39%) of Muslims and Christians voted for the LDF this time as opposed to about one-thirds (35%) in the 2016 elections (Table 1). The UDF, on the other hand, got the same level of support among Muslims (58%) and an increased share among Christians (57%). Support for the UDF however considerably declined among the two minority communities in comparison to the 2019 Lok Sabha election. Back then at least two-thirds of Muslims and Christians had voted for it. For the LDF, the vote gains compared to the Lok Sabha elections were 9 and 14 percentage points, respectively.
In regional terms, while Muslim support for the UDF this time continued to be quite high (at about two-thirds) in the Malabar region (an area mostly contested by the UDF constituent — the IUML), it fell drastically to less than half in the Cochin region, way below the levels recorded by our survey in 2016 (Table 2). It’s here that the LDF scored over the UDF among Muslims. As far as the greater Christian support for the LDF is concerned, much of it came from the Travancore and Malabar regions.
Interestingly, all of the gain among Christians for the LDF and the UDF came at the expense of the BJP and other parties/candidates. The BJP which had secured around 10% of the votes from the Christian community in the 2016 elections, managed only about 2% this time. This decline is significant given that the party had actively raised the spectre of ‘love jihad’ and conversions to woo Christian voters in the run-up to the elections and the fact that the BJP’s top leadership including Prime Minister Narendra Modi had held discussions with several church leaders to find a solution to the long-standing feud between Orthodox and Jacobite sects of the Malankara Syrian Church. However, none of that seems to have worked and our data do not indicate any major variation in how Orthodox and Jacobite Christians voted or of any sort of leaning towards the BJP among either section.
Since the shift of Christian and Muslim votes towards the LDF this time is fairly significant, we tried to dig a bit deeper to see who among the Christians and Muslims shifted. We find that there was a clear class aspect to it. It was the poorer Muslims and Christians that were far more likely to have voted for the LDF this time than in the 2016 elections. Support for the LDF among lower class and poor Muslims increased from 35 to 46% and among lower class and poor Christians from 36 to 44% (Table 3).
Hindu voting pattern
As far as the majority Hindu community is concerned, its voting pattern remained more or less unchanged compared to the 2016 elections with the LDF, the UDF and the NDA drawing more or less similar levels of support as they had done last time with a slight but significant uptick in support for the LDF (Table 1). However, there were some significant caste-wise variations that bear mention — the most significant of them being with respect to the Scheduled Caste or Dalit community, which constitutes about 10% of the population. Dalit support for the LDF increased massively this time to over two thirds (69%). This is an 18 percentage point rise compared to the 2016 elections when 51% or half Dalits had voted for the LDF. Once again, significantly, like Christians, much of this Dalit support for the LDF came at the expense of the BJP which saw a 16 percentage point decline in Dalit support.
The other major area of gain among Hindus for the LDF came from the non-Ezahava OBCs whose support for the LDF climbed from 49 to 61% and this was largely at the expense of the UDF. The Ezhavas who constitute around 20% of the population, showed no significant change in voting pattern. They have traditionally supported the LDF and continued to do so this time as well with the ruling front netting over half their vote. The BJP also made some gains among Ezhavas which seems to have come at the cost of the UDF. For the UDF, the only significant gains came among the Nair community. The Congress-led Front managed to net about two-fifths of their support as opposed to one-fifth in 2016. Nairs and other upper castes were in fact the only community among whom the LDF did not perform well at all.
(The author is a Research Associate at Lokniti-CSDS, Delhi.)