Local factors determine electoral outcomes in States

While national leaders can provide support, the ground work needs to be done by local leaders with a mass base and sustained presence in local politics

Updated - May 04, 2021 03:22 pm IST

Published - May 04, 2021 12:06 am IST

Members of Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) party celebrate while holding a picture of DMK leader M.K. Stalin after their party's lead in major seats of the Tamil Nadu state legislative assembly elections at party headquarters in Chennai on May 2, 2021. (Photo by Arun SANKAR / AFP)

Members of Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) party celebrate while holding a picture of DMK leader M.K. Stalin after their party's lead in major seats of the Tamil Nadu state legislative assembly elections at party headquarters in Chennai on May 2, 2021. (Photo by Arun SANKAR / AFP)

Even as the nation battles the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, Assembly elections have been completed in four States ( Kerala , Tamil Nadu , Assam and West Bengal ) and one Union Territory (Puducherry) . Though citizens and governments came to be exposed to the debilitating impact of COVID-19 in the course of these elections, voter turnout did not see any major decline. The five electoral outcomes mirror the diversity that the country represents.

In these trying times, the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS)-Lokniti conducted a post-poll survey in the States that went to the polls (the post-poll survey was not conducted in Puducherry). Our field investigators followed all the strict protocols that the pandemic necessitated and did a truly commendable job ( See methodology ). We present in a series of articles, to be published over the next few days, an explanation of the electoral verdict as seen from the perceptions and attitudes of citizens.


This round of State elections is set to impact the trajectory of Indian politics in important ways. The verdicts underscore the specificity of the local in defining and determining electoral outcomes. Three of the four ruling parties/ coalitions secured another term in office, while one was voted out of power. Like Assam, Puducherry, too, decided to entrust power to the National Democratic Alliance (NDA). All these States saw a sharp bipolar contest with the third player being relegated to a distant third position. As these were verdicts on who should be entrusted with the responsibility of managing the State administration, the leadership at the State level came to be a key factor. Clearly, the voter in India is making a categorical distinction between voting in a national election and in a State election. If more proof was needed of the same, it was provided by the electorate in the States that went to the polls.

State-wise analysis

A deeper analysis of the specificities of the local merits attention. Kerala set aside its revolving door policy of four decades and accorded a second term to the Left Democratic Front (LDF) . While it was a clear endorsement of the track record of the State government, it was also an expression of disapproval of the ruling party at the Centre.

In Tamil Nadu, the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) faced the consequence of visible anti-incumbency after being in power for 10 years. Further, being the first election after the death of both Karunanidhi and Jayalalithaa, the victory of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) is a clear indicator of M.K. Stalin having been accepted as the inheritor of his father’s legacy by the DMK supporters. In the case of the AIADMK, it is not clear whether supporters of Jayalalithaa see the present AIADMK (and its leadership) as the true successors of her legacy.

In neighbouring Puducherry, the Congress-led alliance (which was dismissed on the eve of the elections) was neither able to garner any sympathy nor convince the voters of its track record in government.

Assam saw a polarisation on religious lines like never before and the State leadership of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was able to successfully lead a well-planned election strategy and campaign.

The Trinamool Congress under Mamata Banerjee, which retained power in West Bengal, occupied the centre stage both during the election campaign and when the results came trickling in.

While different parties and alliances have won the five elections, the central theme that connects all the verdicts is the privileging of the local. This is further underscored by the data emerging from the CSDS-Lokniti post-poll survey.

State poll vs national poll

The categorical distinction between a national verdict and a State-specific verdict was revealed in the response to the question on whether the respondents felt that for the development of their State, it was necessary that the party in power at the Centre should be the ruling party in their State too (See Table 1). More than half the respondents in Kerala fully disagreed with this statement while in Tamil Nadu, four of every 10 respondents took this stand. Given the sharp polarisation in West Bengal, close to one-thirds of the respondents fully disagreed with this statement. It was only in Assam that four of 10 respondents strongly agreed with the statement. In the southern States, it was very clear that voters saw little merit in the same party being in power at both levels while the jury was more divided in the east.


The focus on the local was also visible in the levels of satisfaction with the State and Central governments (See Table 2). If the results of the present post-poll survey are compared with those of the post-poll survey conducted after the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, it is noticed that the net satisfaction (percentage of those satisfied minus those dissatisfied) with the State government has increased and is uniformly high. In Kerala and West Bengal, the net satisfaction was reasonably high. In the case of Kerala, the net satisfaction with the Central government was in the negative and in West Bengal it had declined as compared to two years ago. In Tamil Nadu, the net satisfaction with the State government was very marginal while the dissatisfaction with the Central government was evident. Assam saw a net satisfaction with both the Central and State government as what was recorded in 2019 and this explains the return of the BJP to power.


The highlighting of the local is also evident in the strong pro-incumbency sentiment in the three States where the ruling party/coalition was returned to power (See Table 3). In Kerala and West Bengal, over half the respondents wanted the ruling party back in power. In Assam this sentiment was expressed by four of every 10 respondents. In Tamil Nadu, which saw the defeat of the incumbent, half the respondents were against the incumbent being given a second chance. Clearly, the voters’ perception of the performance of their State governments was critical in the decision on who to vote for.