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The Hindu CSDS-Lokniti Post-Poll Survey 2021

Tamil Nadu Assembly Elections | The land of the rising sun

Anti-incumbency and strong support for M.K. Stalin helped the DMK win

May 05, 2021 12:15 am | Updated July 06, 2022 12:19 pm IST

Victory banner:  DMK cadres putting up a poster of party president M.K. Stalin in Chennai on Monday.

Victory banner: DMK cadres putting up a poster of party president M.K. Stalin in Chennai on Monday.

The Tamil Nadu voter has ushered in a change of guard. The Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) -led alliance was voted to power after 10 years of the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) being the ruling party. In a largely bipolar contest, the gap between the two alliances was six percentage points. The two major alliances secured more than 85% of the votes polled. Nonetheless, the presence of two new alliances — the Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam (AMMK)-led alliance and the Makkal Needhi Maiam (MNM)-led alliance — secured between themselves 6% of the votes. The just-concluded election has witnessed some important trends that merit deeper analysis. The CSDS-Lokniti post-poll analysis provides some useful insights to explain the verdict of the Tamil Nadu voter.

Also read: Methodology of post-poll survey

Issue-based election?

Tamil Nadu has always seen the impact of the leadership factor in its elections. For the last five decades, the Dravidian politics of the State revolved around stalwarts like C.N. Annadurai, M. Karunanidhi, M.G. Ramachandran and Jayalalithaa. Other electoral issues such as unemployment, price rise and the like did not appear to directly determine voting choice in the State. This time around, while four of every 10 respondents (43%) preferred not to reveal the key factor that influenced their voting decision, development and linked issues seemed to be at the back of the mind of at least three of every 10 voters in the State (Table 2). Possibly, the absence of leader-centred politics has given way to issue-awareness.


Also read: Tamil Nadu Assembly polls | Stalin set to be Chief Minister as DMK wins after 10 years

Two-term fatigue?

While there was no single issue that overwhelmingly appeared to determine voter choice, a strong anti-incumbency sentiment against the ruling AIADMK was visible. This could be garnered from the fact that close to half (49%) the respondents said they did not want to give another chance to the ruling party even as one-third (33%) were in favour of giving another chance to the incumbent government. The last time around (in 2016), the gap between those who wanted to give the ruling party a second chance and those who did not was much narrower (Table 3).


The anti-incumbency sentiment could also be read from the figures of the level of satisfaction with the incumbent government. The anti-incumbency wave was clearly visible during the 2019 Lok Sabha election. Measures such as the announcement of farmer loan waivers and 10.5% separate reservation for Vanniyars possibly helped to marginally reduce the anti-incumbency sentiment. The AIADMK tactfully chose to ally with the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) in northern Tamil Nadu, which helped strengthen the fight against the DMK-led alliance. As compared to the mood at the time of the last Assembly polls, there is a decrease in the level of satisfaction with the incumbent government. The net satisfaction (fully satisfied minus fully dissatisfied) was four percentage points lower than the last time around (Table 3).

Data from the CSDS-Lokniti post-poll study indicates that among those who were satisfied with the incumbent government, close to six of every 10 of them voted for the AIADMK-led alliance while three of every 10 gave preference to the DMK-led alliance. On the contrary, among those who were dissatisfied with the government, close to two-thirds (63%) voted for the DMK-led alliance and less than two of every 10 voted for the AIADMK-led alliance (Table 1).



Voters were also asked to assess the work done by the Palaniswami-led AIADMK government in the last five years. Overall, people gave a mixed opinion on the work done by the government. On basic infrastructure such as the supply of electricity, drinking water, condition of roads, government schools and to some extent medical facilities and transport services in the State, the government was rated positively. On the other hand, when it came to the condition of fishing communities, condition of farmers, job opportunities and the law and order situation in the State, the government scored negative marks. People were asked about their opinion on the party that would be best for the betterment of Tamil Nadu on a range of indicators. Respondents preferred the DMK over the AIADMK with the gap ranging between four to five percentage points.


The Lokniti-CSDS post-poll survey has consistently sought to track the vote preference of the swing voters - who were not traditional supporters of any political party and also who did not reveal their party preference. Both this time and in the study done around the last Assembly elections, half the voters were not traditional supporters of any political party. They did play a role in determining the ultimate winner through their decision on who to vote for. This time around, more than two-fifths (42%) of the swing voters voted for the DMK-led alliance whereas a little over one-third (36%) of the swing voters voted for the AIADMK-led alliance. In the last Assembly elections, there was more or less an equal divide in the swing voters between the two major alliances (Table 4).


The leadership factor

Being the first Assembly poll after the passing away of Karunanidhi and Jayalalithaa, was this election also about the leadership factor? Leadership appeared to have a limited role this time. The DMK alliance voters saw M.K. Stalin as the true inheritor of Karunanidhi’s legacy while in the AIADMK alliance, the outgoing Chief Minister Edappadi K. Palaniswami did not get the overwhelming support of its voters as representing the legacy of Jayalalithaa. This could have been one key factor that swayed the trend in favour of the DMK-led alliance.


The election results were not determined by any single electoral issue. Voters were clearly in favour of changing the ruling party. The anti-incumbency sentiment in the State was strongly visible and voters were not keen to give another chance to the incumbent government. Their levels of satisfaction with the State government had visibly declined. The rating of the government on various development indicators was not satisfactory. Thus, the victory of the DMK-led alliance had a lot to do with the anti-incumbency factor, dissatisfaction with the ruling parties’ performance, and an endorsement of Mr. Stalin by the DMK voters of being the true inheritor of his father’s legacy.

P. Ramajayam is Principal and Assistant Professor at Bharathidasan University Constituent Arts & Science College, Nannilam, Thiruvarur; Gladston Xavier teaches at Loyola College, Chennai; Sandeep Shastri is Vice Chancellor, Jagran Lakecity University, Bhopal, and the National Co-ordinator of the Lokniti Network; and Jyoti Mishra is a Research Associate at Lokniti-CSDS

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