BJP's 31 percent vote share: Modi mandate or freak event?

The BJP got a big vote-to-seat conversion but did not get a vote share one would associate with a big wave. This is because the Modi wave was confined to Central and North India’s Hindi speaking areas.

MK Venu May 29, 2014 09:26:04 IST
BJP's 31 percent vote share: Modi mandate or freak event?

The outcome of the 2014 elections will continue to puzzle political pundits because of some unprecedented statistical occurrences. The mandate, in terms of the combined vote shares of the two national parties, the BJP and the Congress, remains around 50 percent. This means Indian voters continue to give roughly 50 percent of the votes to parties other than the Congress and the BJP. Yet the BJP has managed 282 seats in Parliament largely due to an unprecedented vote share to seats conversion ratio in India’s electoral history. With just 31 percent vote share, the BJP has managed 282 seats.

BJPs 31 percent vote share Modi mandate or freak event

File photo of Narendra Modi. PTI

This works out to over 9 seats for every 1 percent vote share. This statistical occurrence is so rare that it makes you wonder if such a share to seat conversion ratio can be repeated by the BJP in the future.

Comparisons with other electoral outcomes might give you an idea of how the BJP’s vote share to seats conversion could well prove to be a one-time occurrence. For instance, the Congress got about 29 percent vote share in 2009 which converted to 206 seats. This works out to roughly 7 seats for every 1 percent vote received. At this rate of vote to seat conversion, the Congress would have needed 40 percent vote share in 2009 to get 282 seats, which is BJP’s tally in 2014.

The BJP has managed this with just 31 percent vote share. A parallel can be drawn with the feat of an athlete achieving an unbelievable timing on some rare steroid in a first-past-the-post race. The only difference being that the performance enhancing factor in Modi’s case was the way he meticulously fashioned his campaign by exposing the Congress rule and offering his own packaged dream. Logically, one can conclude that Modi will find it nearly impossible to repeat his current vote to seat conversion even if he does reasonably well in his five year tenure. Of course, he can attempt to increase the BJP’s overall vote share well beyond the 31 percent mark and thus get a simple majority even on a lower vote share to seat conversion ratio. But for that to happen, the regional parties must lose substantial vote share from their present tally.

Before the BJP managed 282 seats with just 31 percent vote share, the lowest vote share of a single party with a majority in Parliament was in 1967 when the Congress won 283 seats with a 40.8 percent of the total votes polled. This works out to about 7 seats for every 1 percent vote received by the party. The big wave election of 1977 saw the Janata Party sweep to power with 295 seats with 41.3 percent of the total votes polled. The vote to seat conversion here again works out to about 7.2 seats for every 1 percent vote, a little better than the conversion rate in 1967.

The biggest wave election in India’s electoral history happened after Indira Gandhi’s assassination in November 1984. The Congress got a massive mandate of 414 seats in Parliament and bagged 48 percent of all votes polled. The vote share to seats conversion in this unprecedented, one-way election was 8.7 seats for every 1 percent of votes polled in favour of the Congress. What is interesting is that the BJP in 2014 has bettered the Congress feat of 1984 with vote to seat conversion ratio of 9.1 seats for every 1 percent vote it received.

This is what makes the BJP’s vote to seat conversion ratio puzzling. Normally, it should be assumed that the bigger the wave, the better the vote share as well as the vote to seat conversion. There is some positive correlation between high vote share and vote to seat conversion in a big wave situation, as seen in 1984.

However, in 2014, the BJP got a big vote to seat conversion but did not get a vote share one would associate with a big wave. This is probably because the Modi wave was confined to Central and North India’s Hindi speaking areas where it virtually decimated the Congress and some caste-based regional parties.

However, outside of North and Central India, the regional parties have gained massively and consolidated their vote share and seats in the most remarkable manner. Jayalalitha, Naveen Patnaik and Mamata Banerjee have all increased their party’s vote share to nearly 40 percent and above, and grabbed the bulk of the seats in their respective states, wiping out the opposition.

The unprecedented performance of the regional parties beyond the Hindi belt gives a picture which contradicts the narrative that national parties are back in the reckoning, as the BJP’s performance might suggest. The counter narrative to the return of the national parties is the fact that Andhra Pradesh, one of the largest states electorally, has been completely snatched away by two new regional parties – TRS and YSR Congress – and the TDP!

Far from regional parties becoming weaker, the real story seems to be that the BJP has got some 165 seats more than its 2009 tally while the Congress has lost 162 seats compared to its 2009 performance. The Congress vote share in 2014 has dropped to 19.5 percent, which is a tad more than what BJP had (18.8 percent) in 2009. The only difference is that the BJP managed to get 116 seats in 2009 on a vote share of 18.8 percent whereas the Congress got just 44 seats on a vote share of 19.5 percent. So just as the BJP’s vote to seat conversion peaked and set a historical record, the Congress’s vote share to seat conversion has hit a historic low of 2.2 seats for every 1 percent of votes received. This, too, is a rare statistical occurrence and it remains to be seen if it can be repeated in the future in a less polarised election.

The other rare statistical occurrence is Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) bagging 20 percent vote share in Uttar Pradesh and yet not getting even one out of the 80 seats. This can also be attributed to the whim of the first past the post system. After all the BJP got 10 Lok Sabha seats in UP in 2009 with just 17 percent vote share!

The BSP might have won in some constituencies if the Congress had agreed to a seat adjustment with Mayawati which in fact was being negotiated. This would have helped Mayawati get some seats as the BSP was at number two position in many constituencies. Apparently, the seat adjustment fell through. In fact, the Congress has polled abysmally low votes — less than 70,000, in a large number of seats in UP. This suggests it need not have contested in all the seats.

Overall, the BJP was lucky to have been helped by a rare set of circumstances which helped it get those 60 additional seats. If one takes the average vote share to seats conversion ratio over the past two decades, it has not crossed 7.5 seats for every 1 percent of vote polled by the coalition leading party. If that is taken as a normal benchmark, the BJP should have got about 232 Lok Sabha seats, which was the figure being mentioned by most exit polls.

Hence, the fact seems to be that the vagaries of the first-past-the-post system is what has helped the BJP get a simple majority with just 31 percent vote share. If the BJP claims that the election was a referendum on Modi then they will fall victim to the argument that 69 percent of the voters voted against Modi.

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