There has been a lot of discussion regarding voter turnouts in the current 2019 elections. During the initial phases, it was argued that the voter turn-out, in general, was lower than the 2014 levels. However, most of this analysis was based on comparisons of Phase-1 in 2014 with the Phase-1 in 2019.
Many economists have since then expressed the need to have a comparison of the voter turnout in constituencies in 2019 with the corresponding turn-out in 2014. Luckily, for the first two phases, the election commission came out with its own comparison which is comprehensive. The comparison showed that the voter turnout was only marginally lower than what it was in 2014. In fact, in many areas, the voter turnout has been higher than the 2014 levels. It is worth highlighting that 2014 witnessed record high levels of voter turnout and the current four phases suggest that the turnout is in fact marginally higher (a simple average suggests it to be at 0.04% higher than 2014).
While it is difficult to draw conclusions solely on the basis of voter-turnout for approximately 370 seats, it is possible to assert with certainty that 2019 is a high-turnout election compared to previous elections and it is very much likely that the turnout could exceed the previous high of 2014. This makes the 2019 elections interesting in many ways as a major reason behind the high voter turnout in 2014 was the Modi wave combined with the 10-year anti-incumbency and the negative sentiment against the UPA due to series of corruption scandals. Conventional wisdom suggests that angry voters tend to pull up the voter percentage, so a high turnout usually suggests anger against the incumbent. However, in 2019 there is n such anger that is visible against the incumbent- in fact, we witness the popularity of the Prime Minister at an all-time high. Therefore, one conventional wisdom, in this occasion is likely to lead one to an inconsistent conclusion.
When one takes a closer look at the composition of voters of the BJP, they tend to be typically the middle-class voters and the total turnout is extremely sensitive to whether these voters go out and vote. For most other parties, their voters are fixed on religious-caste based identities and they tend to vote based on these factors in successive elections without fail. It could be argued that the difference between a high voter turnout and a low voter turnout election is if the middle class went out to vote or not. It must be stated again, that major proportion of the middle-class votes ends up going to the BJP. So, a high voter turnout does suggest that the BJP may be doing good in 2019- in fact, it is believed that an NDA government is a foregone conclusion, now we’re just waiting to get the final tally of the political parties.
It can not be stated with certainty just based on polling data that most of the middle-class voters would invariably end up voting for the BJP. The polling data for 2014 and 2019 for 370 seats reveals that there is no pattern in terms of the distribution of the change from 2014 levels. That is, it is not the case that the voter turnout has reduced uniformly across BJP strongholds or that it has fallen uniformly across these areas. In fact, the change in constituency wise voter turnout is rather random as we find a negative change in areas where the Congress won with a narrow margin and even in areas where the BJP won with a narrow margin. This suggests that voter turnout doesn’t state with certainty, nor does it help us predict the outcome of 2019.
But one conclusion can be fairly made with the data on voter turnout and that is to do with the spread of the change. A random spread suggests that there isn’t much difference in voters’ attitude or choice to vote (or not to vote) compared to 2014 levels.
A likely outcome of this is that the voting preference would also remain the same as they were before- and hence, it is very likely that the final election outcome is really close to the 2014 levels. Both, the middle-class hypothesis and the random spread of changes in voter turnout reinforces the fact that 2019 would be a mandate for continuity. Perhaps, that’s the reason why Congress seems to have given up and its supporters (especially the ones on social media) have started to express their frustration openly.
Karan Bhasin is a political economist by training and has diversified research interests in the field of economics. He tweets @karanbhasin95.