In 2014 it was a vote for anti-incumbency, in 2019 it is a pro-incumbency vote.
The political capital of Modi along with the support of first-time, swing and undecided voters managed to deliver a giant victory for Modi in 2019.
A nail-biting and fascinating election is over. All pre-poll predictions have gone wrong. BJP has won more than 300 seats bettering its 2014 performance. Many people were calling Modi’s 2014 victory an aberration. This mandate is much bigger than the 2014 mandate. In 2014 it was a vote for anti-incumbency, in 2019 it is a pro-incumbency vote. In this post we will take a look at five factors that determined the scale of Modi’s victory.
1. Political capital of Modi — the Modi factor
The boost the BJP gets from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s personal political capital—which took the party past the finish line in elections over the last few years—has often been referred to as the ‘Modi factor’. This political capital fetched the BJP 4.6 crore and the NDA allies 0.9 crore votes in 2014. It accounted for 63 per cent of NDA’s margin of victory over UPA in 2014.
Come 2019, the Modi factor has increased. Thirty-two per cent (+5 per cent) of BJP voters said in a CSDS survey that they would not have voted for the BJP if Modi was not the PM candidate. For the NDA allies, this factor has improved to 25 per cent (5 per cent). In 2019, the political capital of Modi fetched 8.5 crore votes to the NDA, 31 per cent of the total votes versus 26 per cent in 2014. NDA leads UPA by 11 crore votes in 2019 and the Modi factor accounts for more than three-fourths of this lead. In terms of UPA’s loss to NDA, 77 per cent is explained by the Modi factor alone.
2. Inability of the Congress to expand its vote base
This brings us to another chart that explains in one go all the problems faced by the Congress party. It also highlights that the party is facing a severe existential crisis. In the past three decades while the votes polled have double from 30.9 crores in 1989 to 61.3 crores in 2019, the Congress party’s vote bank has remained stagnant at 11.9 crores.
Over the years it has lost OBC, upper caste, SC-ST and minority votes to BJP and regional parties. It has failed to add a significant caste/class/category of voters to its fold.
3. Preference of swing voters
The core vote base of any party includes people who would vote for them under any circumstances. They are generally attracted by the ideology of the political parties. The dedicated vote share for BJP, Congress and Regional parties combined is the minimum vote share recorded by these parties from 1989-2014 as shown in the figure below (A). This aggregates to 82 per cent, meaning the swing voters are to the tune of 18 per cent (yellow sector).
The backing of the swing voters normally decides the course of any election in India. In absolute terms this number is likely to be 11-12 crores in 2019. This is huge! The entire lot of swing voters amounting to 11 crores have backed the BJP in these elections, as per my calculations (B where swing votes are absorbed in the BJP sector).
4. Presidential style elections
The elections were all about Modi. He managed to make it a Modi versus the Rest. It in the end reduced to a vote for or against Modi. Modi managed to convert the elections into a Presidential type election. As per National Election Studies (NES) 2014 conducted by CSDS, for 17 per cent voters nationally — that is 10.5 crore voters — the PM candidate mattered the most while going out to vote. For BJP voters, the number is almost double, at 34 per cent. Even for the 16 per cent Left supporters, the PM candidate mattered. They didn’t have one and hence could have backed as seen in the collapse of Left in West Bengal.
One could argue that in some places the party and candidate mattered more than the PM candidate and hence this doesn’t support the Presidential-style theory. In 10 states accounting for 242 seats (45 per cent of Lok Sabha strength), this factor was more than the national average of 17 per cent, ranging from 19-35 per cent. Out of these 242 seats, NDA won 218 (90 per cent). In all these states, except J&K, NDA swept the polls bagging more than 80 per cent of the seats. In Bihar, Gujarat, Haryana, UP, Delhi and Jharkhand this factor was more than the national average.
Overall 46 per cent respondents preferred Modi over Rahul which is higher by one percentage point compared to 2014 despite an increase in popularity of Rahul from 24 percent to 34 percent.
5. Preference of undecided and first-time voters
Fourteen per cent respondents in NES 2014 stated that they decided whom to vote for only on the day of voting. The India Today -Axis Exit Poll has come up with similar numbers for 2019. This is a big number even considering that many of my educated friends were frantically messaging me on voting day asking where they could find the names of candidates for their constituency!
This has been a common trend across the past four polls. These voters generally depict herd mentality and go with the wave. The results show a clear wave and they seem to have backed the winning horse of BJP and NDA. Campaign strategists have failed to reduce this number over past two decades and this will be a big challenge for them especially in a wave-less elections.
In 2019, more than 8 crore first-time voters were eligible to vote for Lok Sabha elections. As per an Indian Express report, in 282 seats, the number of first-time voters was more than the winning margin in 2019.
A large chunk — 29.4 per cent as per NES 2014 — are not tied to any ideology. These are the voters who, cutting across caste lines, have backed Modi in 2019. The issue of nationalism and air strikes also resonated more among the 18-25 age group voters. Modi eyed this group when, in a rally in Maharashtra in April 2019, he exhorted, "I want to ask my first-time voters, can your first vote be dedicated to the soldiers who conducted the Balakot air strikes? Can your first vote be in the name of the martyrs who lost their lives in Pulwama?" This appeal seems to have worked.
To sum up, the political capital of Modi along with the support of first-time, swing and undecided voters managed to deliver a giant victory for Modi in 2019.