Karnataka 2023 — Vote Share Tranche Analysis

Venu Gopal Narayanan

Apr 09, 2023, 03:03 PM | Updated 03:02 PM IST

Karnataka Elections 2023.
Karnataka Elections 2023.
  • The challenge for political analysts is to analyse electoral data while bearing two points in mind: that no real benchmark exists to drape past data upon, and, that the ground conditions have changed since the 2018 assembly elections.
  • What conclusions may we derive from this vote share tranche analysis?
  • A rigorous analysis of vote shares, in conjunction with other quantitative approaches like margin tranche analysis and vote swings, is an excellent way to bridge historical data with prevailing electoral dynamics, to make a meaningful forecast.

    Unfortunately, such an approach is hampered in Karnataka for multiple reasons.

    One, a fierce internal rebellion within the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), in 2013, disrupted continuity by temporarily splitting the BJP vote base.

    Two, while the BJP managed to overcome the effects of this rebellion to some extent in 2018, the trends did not reform fully because the 2013 rebellion stunted the BJP’s growth path set from 2004 onwards, and masked whatever growth the party managed by 2018.

    Third, the ground realities in Karnataka changed dramatically between 2018 and the general elections of 2019, when the BJP comprehensively swept the state.

    Now, while it is not easy to quantify the extent to which the BJP’s performance in 2019 will be replicated in 2023, it is self-evident that the BJP has expanded into areas like Southern Karnataka, which were its traditional weak spots.

    Thus, the challenge for political analysts is to analyse electoral data while bearing two points in mind: that no real benchmark exists to drape past data upon, and, that the ground conditions have changed since the 2018 assembly elections.

    One method to overcome these constraints is an exercise called vote share tranche analysis. By it, the votes a party got in 2018 are classified by tranches, and then by geographical distribution.

    This gives somewhat ‘dimensionless’, or stand-alone inputs, on the strengths and weaknesses of a party in a particular region.

    The parties assessed thus are the BJP, the Congress, and the Janata Dal (Secular), the JD(S), all of whom are contesting the 2023 assembly elections independently.

    In 2018, the JD(S) was in alliance with the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), who contested 18 seats and won one.

    To recap, these are the results of the past three assembly elections in Karnataka:

    The maps below show the vote share the three main parties received in 2018:

    Readers may note that the Congress vote share is fairly evenly spread across the state.

    Unlike the BJP, which is very strong in coastal Karnataka, or the JD(S), which has a stronghold in the south, the Congress does not predominate overwhelmingly in any one region.

    These are the findings of the vote share tranche analysis by party:

    One, the BJP polled less than 10 per cent votes in 32 of 224 seats. In contrast, the Congress polled this low in only six seats. The JD(S) numbers in this tranche reflect its geographical restrictions, and show that over half the contests are bipolar ones.

    Two, the BJP got less than 30 per cent vote share in 62 seats, and won none. In 40 of these 62, it polled below 20 per cent. This is the party’s Achilles Heel, which it will seek to mitigate. In contrast, the Congress got below 30 per cent in only 49 seats, of which it won two, and polled below 20 per cent in just 21 seats.

    Three, the Congress has a clear edge in the 30-40 per cent tranche, with 59 seats to the BJP’s 33. This is where the Congress can benefit if the JD(S) crumbles, and more of the Muslim vote moves from the JD(S) to the Congress. Note that the JD(S) got 30-40 per cent in 24 seats, winning five.

    Four, the Congress continues to lead in the 40-50 per cent band, winning 25 of the 91 seats where it polled this much. But this is also where the BJP starts catching up; it won 46 of 81 — a better strike rate than the Congress.

    The JD(S) has an even better strike rate, winning 16 of 21, but the impact is limited to its bastion of Mysore region.

    But, five, it is above the 50 per cent mark, that the BJP shows its core strength, winning 48 seats to the Congress’s 24.

    These observations become even clearer when we classify the vote share tranches of the three parties by region. This is a laborious exercise, but well worth the effort, since it brings out so many vital findings.

    First, we see that two-thirds of the 32 seats in the Bengaluru region are two-way contests, one-third are triangular, and that the BJP and Congress are roughly evenly matched.

    This is also one region where Congress efforts to consolidate the Muslim vote, at the cost of the JD(S), will trigger a massive counter-consolidation in favour of the BJP.

    Second, most of the 50 seats in Bombay Karnataka are bipolar, with the BJP having a clear edge over the Congress. The BJP won 29 seats with over 40 per cent in 2018 to the Congress’s 12 wins of 27 in the same tranche.

    Conversely, the Congress polled under 40 per cent in 23 seats compared to the BJP’s 12.

    A key inference, therefore, is that while the BJP could sweep the region if its vote share increases by even 1-2 per cent, it wouldn’t fare too poorly if its vote share went down by as much.

    Third, the BJP is expected to sweep coastal Karnataka comprehensively.

    Fourth, Central Karnataka is the state’s battlefield region. It will decide whether the BJP crosses the halfway mark comfortably, or not. The reason is that, while the BJP won 21 of the 37 seats here (the Congress won 13), it polled under 20 per cent in 10 seats.

    However, most of these 10 seats are in the Kolar region, where the BJP is expected to do much better this time.

    The ripples can be seen in the Congress: its leader, Rahul Gandhi, has postponed his rally in Kolar thrice already, and former Congress chief minister K Siddaramaiah has been given Varuna seat in south Mysore instead of Kolar seat.

    It is probable that the BJP could get the largest vote share in this region, and spring a few surprises in the Kolar area.

    Fifth, The Congress and the BJP are fairly evenly matched in Hyderabad Karnataka across tranches, with the Congress enjoying a slightly larger vote base. The JD(S) has a hold in some pockets here because of advantageous demographics.

    The Congress could, therefore, benefit if the JD(S) crumbles. Nonetheless, the BJP should hold on to its core strengths (it won 14 of 26 seats with more than 40 per cent vote share), and even improve its position if the contests become more bipolar.

    Finally, sixth, Southern Karnataka. It is a JD(S) stronghold. The BJP polled under 20 per cent in 23 of 46 seats in 2018 — a full half. This is also a region where the BJP didn’t dramatically improve its position in 2019; Mandya Lok Sabha seat was won by an independent ally, and the BJP polled only around 30 per cent in the assembly segments of Hassan Lok Sabha seat which the JD(S) won.

    Nonetheless, even the most biased of opinion polls indicate that the BJP will do slightly better here in 2023.

    What conclusions may we derive from this vote share tranche analysis?

    One, the BJP is expected to win more seats in the 30-40 per cent vote tranche. Its vote share will go up in its traditionally-weak areas, although it is too premature to make a vote-to-seat conversion just yet.

    Two, the Congress will be hard-pressed to maintain its 2018 position if it cannot attract more votes from the JD(S), not least because the Congress polls under 30 per cent in 49 seats which lie directly in the BJP’s growth path.

    Three, while it is presently difficult to see the JD(S) crossing 30 seats, it is easier to envision the party’s tally falling below 25.

    Four, Central Karnataka will be a decisive region in 2023. The BJP can do better here if it gets its campaign and candidates right.

    Venu Gopal Narayanan is an independent upstream petroleum consultant who focuses on energy, geopolitics, current affairs and electoral arithmetic. He tweets at @ideorogue.

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