Bihar poll result analysis: Vote share dips for most, but BJP's margins rise; fewer women MLAs win despite high female turnout
The difference between the average vote share of first-time candidates and candidates who have contested in Bihar elections before , is highest for the Congress, potentially indicating that the party's performance varies highly based on the candidate
The Bihar election cliffhanger ended at around 3 am Wednesday with the BJP-JD(U) combine managing to secure yet another term for Chief Minister Nitish Kumar. The final results contradicted most exit polls, which gave an edge to Tejashwi Yadav’s RJD-led Mahagathbandhan.
Let's look at some of the broad trends that have emerged from the election results and how the parties fare in comparison with previous results.
The first thing to notice is the change in vote shares of the JD(U) and BJP as compared to the 2019 General Election to Lok Sabha. The vote shares of both parties dropped in this Assembly Election, more so for the JD(U). However, this does not necessarily mean that the BJP performed worse than it did in 2019; the difference is likely because voters are voting differently in national and state elections, something that we have been observing in the recent past.
The RJD’s vote share dropped slightly as compared to the 2015 Assembly election results — note that the party was in alliance with Nitish Kumar’s JD(U) whose support base probably provided additional votes to the RJD. And, it is perhaps these ‘swing votes’ (who stayed on Nitish’s side when he switched sides) that deprived the RJD of some more seats that could have changed the election results. I talk about this elsewhere.
A predominant discussion in this election has been the variation in the performance of parties within their respective alliances.
In Mahagathbandhan, the Congress clearly pulled the tally down: it has the lowest strike rate (seats won out of contested) and lowest vote share in seats contested in the alliance. Some of it could be because Congress got a higher proportion of seats in NDA strongholds; yet, this is an insufficient explanation and it is beyond any doubt that Congress did worse than other partners in the alliance.
The Congress equivalent on the NDA side seems to be Nitish Kumar’s JD(U). It won much fewer seats than the BJP and its vote share is also considerably lower than that of the BJP. While there is no denying that the JD(U) did significantly worse than the BJP, the gap between the BJP and the JD(U)’s performance could have been significantly lower in the absence of the damage done by Chirag Paswan’s LJP (NDA ally at Centre, but fielded candidates against JD(U)) by eating into the JD(U)’s vote share. In more than two dozen seats that the JD(U) lost, the margin of victory was lower than the LJP’s vote share.
AIMIM and Left Parties performed better than expected. The left parties won 16 out of 29 seats they contested as a part of the Mahagathbandhan. Asaduddin Owaisi’s AIMIM, which contested in alliance with the Upendra Kushwaha-led RLSP, the BSP and three other parties, won five seats. AIMIM’s vote share has dropped in comparison to 2019, but this is because the party had contested on only one seat in 2019 whereas it contested on 20 seats this time, covering a larger area. Jitan Ram Manjhi’s HAM also managed to improve its performance this time, winning four seats.
Level of competition
There is a significant variation in the average margin of victory within different parties. Among the parties that contested on a significantly large number of seats, the BJP has the highest margins, followed by RJD. Again, the margins are lower for Congress and JD(U) — not very surprising in the case of JD(U) due to LJP. Manjhi’s HAM narrowly won the four seats it did.
Overall, this election was even more competitive than the previous elections: this is hardly surprising given the final results. Again, here it is clear that the elections in 2019 were less close, reaffirming that the voters voted differently in the National and Assembly elections. The average winning vote indicates a reasonable fragmentation in vote shares and did not change much as compared to 2015.
Fresh faces versus old ones
A comparison between vote shares of first-time candidates and candidates who have contested before among the main parties — BJP, JD(U), RJD, Congress and LJP — shows that the latter category performed systematically better. The slightly higher vote share for candidates who have contested before is potentially an interesting insight on the importance of the candidate. Candidates who have contested before, on an average, are presumably better known than those contesting for the first time. Therefore, the additional vote share may be solely because of the candidate, suggesting that candidates still somewhat matter even in this highly polarised voting along party lines.
The difference between the average vote share of first-time candidates and candidates who have contested before is highest for the Congress, potentially indicating that the party's performance varies highly based on the candidate. The difference is reasonably significant for the BJP and LJP as well, but much less for the RJD and JD(U). Among the main parties (including left and LJP), a total of 307 first-time and 336 non-first-time candidates contested, out of which 88 and 153 won, respectively.
Incumbency at the local level
Somewhat surprisingly, or not so, among the main parties, the incumbent candidates have performed consistently better than non-incumbents in terms of average vote share. The reason is not clear. It could be that the so-called ‘anti-incumbency’ is prevalent only at the upper level (chief minister or ruling party) and not at the level of MLA, or, parties are systematically giving tickets to only strong incumbents, or, a mix of both. All in all, 181 incumbents contested, out of which 87 won.
The differences between the performance of incumbent and non-incumbent candidates in terms of vote share is higher in BJP and Congress as compared to JD(U), and negligible in LJP and RJD.
The number of female candidates has been abysmally low in Bihar, just like other states. Only 84 women were given tickets by main parties (including Left and LJP), out of which 26 won in an Assembly of 243. On average, female candidates seem to be getting a slightly lesser share of votes than their male counterparts. Again, it could be that parties are giving tickets to female candidates systematically in weaker seats, or, the voters discriminate against female candidates, or, both.
A party-wise breakup reveals that female candidates actually performed better in Congress in this election. The difference is highest in BJP followed by JD(U), and very less in RJD. The trend of lesser vote share for women candidates, however, is not the same for all parties.
There has been a lot of discussion on female voters in the context of their higher turnout, but very little on female candidates as noted here.
Despite all the rhetoric of women empowerment in their campaigns, the parties seem to be doing a poor job of giving them actual representation.
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