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Election 2019: 8 trends to watch out for

Mar 17, 2019, 03.08 PM IST
The number of seats won by regional parties has risen from an average of 35 Lok Sabha seats in the early phase after Independence to over 160 seats now.


In a forthcoming book, veteran psephologists Prannoy Roy and Dorab R Sopariwala the highlight the key factors that will shape the upcoming elections. Excerpts ...
(This story originally appeared in on Mar 17, 2019)
Will 2019 be all about anti-incumbency?


There is a widespread belief that most ruling governments are not re-elected by voters. In our analysis of big and medium-sized states, in the period 1977–2002, 70% of governments were thrown out by angry, dissatisfied voters. However, this has changed over the last 20 years. To put it simply, the anti-incumbency era is over. India is now going through what can be called a ‘Fifty:Fifty Era’. Governments today have a 50:50 chance of being re-elected. Governments that perform are voted back. Those that do not deliver are voted out. The angry voter has given way to a wiser, more mature voter.

Young voters, old MPs


Our members of Parliament are much older than the average age of voters. Once again, expect older candidates as the average age of members of the Lok Sabha has been rising with every election. Today, 59% of voters in India are young, between the ages of 18 and 40. But only 15% of MPs are between 25 and 40 years old. This means that 85% of MPs are of a different generation from the majority of voters. And it’s a widening age gap.

Expect 2019 to be the ‘election of the women of India’ but who will they vote for
Women’s participation in elections has been rising much faster than men, and the next Lok Sabha elections could be the first time in India’s history that their turnout will be higher than men. But who do women vote for? Traditionally, the BJP has had a higher support base amongst men than women. Which is why the government’s free gas cylinder policy (Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana) was a perfect election campaign idea; it targeted primarily rural, women voters. All parties can now be expected to make similar promises targeting women in these elections. To illustrate how important the male voter is for the NDA, a simple simulation of the 2014 elections threw up two alternative scenarios. First, if only men had voted, the NDA would have won as many as 376 seats (40 seats more than the 336 that they actually won). Second, if only women had voted, the NDA would have won only 265 seats (71 seats lower than their final total in 2014 and 7 seats below the halfway mark of 272).


The biggest shame of 2019...21 million missing women voters

Early estimates suggest that as many as 21 million eligible women voters will be denied their right to vote in 2019 simply because their names have been excluded... To place this number of missing women voters in perspective: it is equal to 39,000 women missing in every constituency in this country.


Disappearing Independents
Having understood the unfairness of the first-past-the-post system, voters are increasingly ignoring Independents. The vote for Independents has dropped from 13% in the earlier years to just 4% today. Victims of the system, they will be all but irrelevant in this election.


No longer a national election; it’s a true federation-of-states election
The number of seats won by regional parties has risen from an average of 35 Lok Sabha seats in the early phase after Independence to over 160 seats now, almost a third of the seats in the Lok Sabha, and the trend is decidedly upwards. Even more significant is the rapid increase in the votes that regional parties are now winning. In the early phase of Indian elections, regional parties won 4% of the vote, this has now risen to 34% of the national vote in Lok Sabha elections. The end of the all-India ‘uniform-swing’ will play a crucial role in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. The importance of strong sub-national parties will create state-level swings and relegate the phenomenon of a national swing to a memory from the past. It’s probably best not to focus exclusively on the ‘Modi-Shah-appeal’ or the ‘Rahul-Priyanka-effect’ or even the ‘Modi-Rahul-contest’ in 2019. Increasingly, it is the ‘state-leader-impact’ that will be more relevant.

What will be more important for victory: votes or dividing the Opposition?
In the past, winning the popular vote yielded more seats than a fragmented Opposition. In fact in every Lok Sabha election victory between 1952 and 2002, the ruling party won about two-thirds of its seats because of a high popular vote and only one-third of the seats were won due to the effect of a divided Opposition. The impact of Opposition unity on seats is rising with every election, from an average of 33% in the first two phases to 45% in the last three Lok Sabha elections. So in 2019, expect alliances between parties to play a very crucial role.


On vote counting day, watch out for the ‘Bump’
Do not make the mistake of walking away from your television set on counting day when all the ‘leads’ are in. Major changes happen as more and more rounds are counted. Nothing sinister, it is merely a statistical phenomenon that happens in every election — and benefits the leading party, no matter which party is leading. The party that is ahead when all the leads are in gets an amazing ‘Bump’ in actual seats once all the results are in. For Lok Sabha elections, when all the 543 ‘leads’ are in but counting is still in progress, be prepared to add another forty-five seats to the leading party’s tally and subtract about the same number from the trailing parties’ total. In other words, be prepared for as much as a forty-five-seat Bump, or what could be up to a ninety-seat swing.

(Edited excerpts from The Verdict: Decoding India’s Elections by Prannoy Roy and Dorab Sopariwala with permission from Penguin Random House India)
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