In Numbers: Just How Formidable The BJP Has Become In Uttar Pradesh
Why the BJP seems set to register a vote share of more than 40 per cent for the fourth straight election since 2014 in Uttar Pradesh.
This is the fourth part of a series which analyzes the forthcoming assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh using historical voter data and ongoing opinion polls.
In our previous pieces, we saw that psephology is perilous business in Uttar Pradesh for two reasons – a constant shifting of alliances from election to election, and a sustained growth of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) vote share after 2012.
Readers may recollect that the Samajwadi Party (SP) was aligned with the Congress in 2017 (UP ke ‘Do ladke’), but in 2019, it went with the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD). As on date, the SP is allied only with the RLD, while the Congress and the BSP look set to contest alone. The BJP and the Apna Dal remain allied as before, and a small Nishad party with potent localized benefits has also joined them now.
With neither coalitions nor vote bases holding steady, tidy comparisons – which is what electoral data analysis is traditionally based on – become as rare as a tiger in the Terai.
Swarajya has, therefore, employed a series of novel, little-used analytical techniques, to overcome these fundamental constraints, so that more representative inferences may be drawn from the data, with lower predictive uncertainty.
In this piece, we analyze vote shares, swings and victory margins between the 2017 assembly elections and the 2019 general elections (at the assembly segment level).
Our first data table lists the frequency distribution of seats by vote swing tranche from 2017 to 2019, and wins. SP+ denotes the vote swings for a coalition led by the SP in both 2017 and 2019 (even if its allies were diametrically different). It is a good gauge of how successful an SP-lead alliance has been in stopping the BJP juggernaut, and acts as a pointer to the party’s prospects in 2022 if it contests alone (the RLD hardly counts, save in a few pockets of Western UP).
The way to read this table is to see how many times a coalition registered a particular vote swing (positive or negative), and how many of those seats it won.
For example, the SP+ registered a positive vote swing of 10 to 15 per cent in 79 constituencies, meaning that it profited from junking the Congress and tying up with the BSP. But it won only nine of those 79 (11 per cent), meaning also, that even such a strong positive swing was insufficient to counter vote consolidations under the BJP banner. In comparison, the BJP+ registered a 10-15 per cent vote swing in 96 seats, and won 72 of those (or 75 per cent).
This is an important table because it shows just how formidable the BJP has become in UP. Its significance becomes more apparent when we plot the frequency distribution of swings for both principal groupings together on a common chart:
The SP+ registered more vote losses than the BJP+ in every tranche on the negative scale; and to boot, they also lost over 20 per cent in 19 seats.
It is the same on the positive side of the scale up to the plus-15 per cent swing mark, with the orange BJP bars towering over the green SP+ ones, like Joel Garner standing next to Gus Logie.
It is only beyond this mark that the SP’s alliance with the BSP starts to count, with the bulk transfer of votes finally taking effect. But by then, the frequency of seat numbers begins to decline, meaning that the contest is already won or lost in the first fifteen per cent. The rest only aid to save face.
Some equally interesting observations also emerge when we analyze swings and wins by tranche for the BJP+:
By and large, we see that anything over a five per cent positive swing is a sweep for the BJP+. Further, in 2019, the BJP+ lost votes over 2017 in just twelve seats – and they still won two of those. That means they registered a positive vote swing in 391 seats out of 403.
This vote swing data is also presented in a map, for readers to get a better idea of the geographical distribution, and the sheer scale, of the BJP’s growth in UP:
In contrast, the SP+ is seen to perform insufficiently well, in spite of a robust coalition of the identity vote:
Note how that red bars, denoting SP+ wins, start to rise materially only after their vote swing rises to above 15 per cent. In one sense, this chart represents two things: the perils of depending solely on the identity vote, and the deleterious effect of a counter-consolidation which now inevitably follows under the BJP banner.
Perhaps that is why the SP’s Akhilesh Yadav has recently reduced himself to claiming that they would have built a Ram Mandir at Ayodhya within a year! But it’s probably too late now, for at least two reasons: one, India in general, and Uttar Pradesh in particular, is now beginning to reject identity politics with increasing vehemence; and, two, the most popular re-tweets and forwards are still of an infamous clip, in which Mr. Yadav praised Jinnah as a great freedom fighter.
This trend also shows up clearly in a 2019 vote share map of the BJP+ at the assembly segment level:
Note the preponderance of seats in which the BJP+ got over 50 per cent of the vote share, and how many in which they got between 40-50 per cent. That means the BJP+ needs to lose 10-15 per cent of what they got in 2019, in over 200 seats, if the SP+ is to have any chance of gaining the popular mandate.
Will that happen? History shows that the SP managed to engineer a fairly high index of opposition unity in 2019, and a vigorous consolidation of the identity vote, along with the BSP and the RLD. See map below:
Neither of those two prerequisites for an opposition victory seem at hand in UP on date. Instead, if the index of opposition unity reduces in 2022, then the vote margin between the BJP+ and the SP+ would only increase.
Look at the vote margin spread between the two principal groupings in 2017, and note the frequency of high differentials (dark blue):
Now compare that with a vote margin map for 2019:
Both maps 4 and 5 above can be reduced to a compact table, listing the frequency distribution of the BJP+’s vote margins over the SP+ in 2017 and 2019. (Note: these numbers will not tally with wins because third parties won some of the assembly seats/ segments)
It’s clear that if the SP had to struggle so hard save its blushes in 2019, in spite of being in alliance with the BSP, the gap it would need to cover in 2022 on its own would obviously be greater. The only way in which the SP could manage that materially is if, to repeat ourselves, the BJP suffered a secular erosion of 10-15 per cent across the board from what they got in 2017 or 2019, while the index of opposition unity went up significantly.
That doesn’t seem to be the case though, if recent surveys are representative. As things stand, most still peg the BJP at over 40 per cent of the popular vote in Uttar Pradesh; and with the BSP and the Congress still determined to contest on their own, the highest probability then, is that the BJP+ would receive a renewed mandate in 2022.
In the next piece of this series, our focus will be on how various political parties might fare in the forthcoming 2022 Uttar Pradesh assembly elections.
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