Elections: Patterns and rules

Mar 08 2014, 10:56 IST
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SummaryTraditionalists keep raising the same issues about voting behaviour, which the youthful discarded a long time ago

There is a political storm coming, make no mistake about it. The signs are many, but the most important one is the state of the economy, and the accompanying disappointment, disgruntlement and disgust with the ruling dispensation. In addition, after the dates for Election 2014 were announced, street fights commenced. There is apprehension that this might be one of the more violent elections, a forecast (not mine) that I hope, and predict, will decidedly not come true.

Most opinion polls, indeed all, suggest the following outcome. First, that the Congress is headed for at least a halving of its 2009 tally of 206 seats, a halving that should place the Congress at an all-time low. Second, that the Narendra Modi-led BJP is poised to make major gains in votes and seats, in the neighbourhood of 200, some 20-odd seats above the highest-ever obtained by the BJP (in 1999). Assuming this forecast to be broadly correct, the important question that needs answering is what explains this phenomenon which until just six months ago most pundits would have found incomprehensible. Many of them still do, but we will not know till May 16 and, until then, all we can do is make intelligent sense from the available data, and not infer sense from vague opinions.

I will interpret the sense of Election 2014 in this article, and a following one (slated for publication on March 11) and will boldly make state-level forecasts for the two major parties, the Congress and the BJP, and their respective alliances.

A very long time ago, I learnt the first rule of elections: they are about negatives—the party (or candidate) which has a higher number of negatives loses. Again, exceptions are always present, but they are infrequent. This explanation helps to differentiate against the common back-of-the-envelope indicator—anti-incumbency. Look back to most elections, and you will find that summing up the negatives really does explain elections. But what about the surprise 2004 result, when the widely-expected victory of Vajpayee’s BJP-led coalition did not materialise. What were the negatives in that election? Possibly, the Godhra and the Gujarat riots; but more importantly, the nature of seat sharing arrangements in a first-past-the-post parliamentary system. Between 1999 and 2004, both the major parties lost a 2 percentage point vote-share—but the UPA gained 31 seats and the NDA lost 44 seats!

At the beginning of the election period, some six months ago, the

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