Most opinion polls indicate that the BJP is poised to win around 210-230 seats on its own and around 260-270 seats as NDA.
With the high turnout in Modi rallies, it can be safely concluded that the election result should be a favourable swing for the BJP with a strong pro-incumbency vote.
On the eve of 2014 elections, most opinion polls indicated that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was poised to win around 200 to 220 seats on its own and around 240 to 250 seats as the National Democratic Alliance (NDA).
One of the defining aspects of the 2014 Lok Sabha elections for the BJP was the campaign momentum it built up during the multi-phase elections and consequent favourable ‘late swing’, resulting in an outcome that surpassed all initial estimates with BJP winning 282 seats on its own.
The campaign momentum manifested in the steep jump in turnout from 58.2 per cent in 2009 to 66.4 per cent in 2014, which was the highest ever turnout recorded in any Lok Sabha election in India. Psephologically, it was deduced that the marginal vote from the increase in turnout overwhelmingly went in favour of the BJP and helped in moving the needle decisively in its favour with the party polling 17.2 crore votes up from 7.9 crore votes it polled in 2009.
We are now approaching the end of 2019 Lok Sabha election campaign trail, and it would be interesting to analyse the insights that the campaign has thrown up.
The 2019 Modi Campaign
Like in 2014, the ‘mega’ Modi rallies continue to be the cornerstone of the BJP campaign in this election. It is estimated that in a typical Modi rally, there are anywhere between 1 lakh to 3 lakh attendees, primarily from the constituency in which the rally is being held and from one or two constituencies nearby. The essential thrust of these rallies is to pump up the enthusiasm quotient of the committed workers and supporters as well as present a strong option to vote for those yet to decide.
In addition, most of the Modi rallies are telecast live on Internet channels as well as covered by the national media that beams them directly into homes of people across the country. Very often, sound bites from the Modi rallies help set in narratives which become subject matter of intense discussion on television, print and social media.
The Modi rallies can be broadly classified into two categories. First category is about rallies which take place during the build-up phase of the election. Such rallies aim to essentially flag off the campaign in various states and activate the state party machinery for the election. In total, there were 46 rallies in the build-up phase held between January to first week of March, covering 21 states and union territories.
The second category of rallies are those held during the active election phase, which aim at giving a final push to the electoral prospects of the party in the constituency in which the rally is being held and in constituencies nearby. Such rallies have taken place from the last week of March and will continue until the end of the seventh phase of the election. Such rallies charge up and motivate party workers, leading to better mobilisation of voters on the voting day.
Typically, a Modi rally is held about three to 10 days prior to the polling in the target constituency to ensure that the enthusiasm generated from the rally does not dissipate. From a psephological standpoint, it is well established that enthusiasm to vote, even for the voters with clear preferences, is critical in swinging the results.
The table below gives a breakup of Modi’s rallies state/region wise in the election phase from 28 March onwards.
The Macro Trend – a Mix of Selective Defence and Targeted Offence
Employing a cricketing parallel, in 2019, BJP’s campaign is like that of the side chasing a set target and employing a calculated approach by defending against a few bowlers and selectively attacking others. Relatively high number of rallies during election phases in West Bengal (17 rallies), Odisha (eight rallies) and North East (eight rallies) clearly show these are newer geographies being targeted for additional gains. Presently, the BJP has only 11 out of the total 88 seats on offer in these three regions.
A very high focus in UP (29 rallies) is a clear sign of the challenge on hand to defend a high number of seats presently held, especially considering the arithmetically solid opposition alliance. Also evident is a relatively higher focus on the states of Rajasthan (eight rallies) and Madhya Pradesh (eight rallies) where BJP recently ceded grounds to the Congress in the last assembly elections. It is also conspicuous that BJP is not expecting any major gains from states of Andhra Pradesh (two rallies), Telangana (one rally).
Micro Trend – Data Based Approach and Focus on Swing seats
The US presidential elections are known to extensively use data and analytics to optimise the campaign efforts and resources. It was reported that in the 2016 US presidential election, 66 per cent of the campaign events of both the Democratic and Republican parties were concentrated in six ‘swing’ states collectively accounting for 120 electoral votes out of the total 538 electoral votes from all the 50 states.
Historically and contrastingly, any use of data in India is mostly restricted to calibrating caste and religious mix in selection of candidates and formation of an alliance. Lead campaigners of political parties are known to campaign based on the requests placed by the individual candidates or those with proximity to the candidates.
Refreshingly, a deeper constituency-wise analysis of Modi’s election-phase campaign rallies shows that a lot of data-based inputs have gone into scheduling these rallies. Out of the total 140 Modi rallies, 100 were held in ‘swing’ seats from BJP’s perspective.
A seat can be classified as ‘swing’ seat for the BJP if (a) it had a winning margin of less than 10 per cent of the vote share in 2014 or (b) if BJP is mounting a challenge to the incumbent or (c) if the seat has a sitting BJP Member of Parliament but has become vulnerable due to local political factors.
For the state of West Bengal where Modi is holding 17 rallies, 14 of them are being held in constituencies were BJP registered about two lakh or more votes in the 2014 elections, clearly showing the focus to mount a serious challenge in winning the seat and not only improving the vote share.
The seats where Modi did not expend much campaign efforts during the election phases are also noteworthy. For instance, only one rally was done for the Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR) which has 10 seats and only one rally was held in Delhi which has seven seats. No rallies were held in traditional strongholds like Ahmedabad, Surat, Lucknow and Pune.
Comparison with 2014 Campaign
It is inevitable that BJP’s campaign efforts for the 2019 elections will be compared with Modi’s 2014 campaign, which had set the bar for election management in India. The 2014 campaign, based purely on sheer size, scale and audacity was unprecedented, and was perhaps one of the biggest political mass outreach programmes the world has ever seen.
The context and the aim of both the campaigns are very different. The 2014 campaign was about introducing Narendra Modi, the candidate, with vigour to the large swathes of the country where he was hitherto still relatively less known. Now in 2019, it is Narendra Modi the incumbent, who has been highly visible to the electorate of the country during his tenure. Accordingly, the focus of 2019 campaign is on leveraging “Brand Modi” to make new inroads and on defending the existing turf.
In 2014, Modi conducted a blitzkrieg of 185 ‘Bharat Vijay’ rallies as a final push supplemented by several 3D Holographic technology based multi-location rallies. In comparison, in 2019, Modi may end up doing less than 140 rallies during the election phase.
One aspect of BJP’s 2019 campaign that has been relatively less noticed is the huge supplemental effort put by BJP party president Amit Shah who has conducted more than 250 rallies of his own along with multiple road shows. What is common between both 2014 and 2019 election is the constant sprinkling of television and print interviews by the Prime Minister during the whole election campaign ensuring high levels of visibility and continuous messaging during the full campaign.
It’s deja vu of sorts that almost on the eve of the 2019 election results, most opinion polls are showing that the BJP is poised to win around 210-230 seats on its own and around 260 to 270 seats as NDA. With the high turnout at Modi’s rallies and that too for all the six phases of voting, the base case for the election result should still be a favourable swing for the BJP with a strong pro-incumbency vote.