In the absence of exit and opinion poll data, thanks to the Election Commission of India’s misplaced belief that surveys can swing voter allegiance, poll pundits take refuge in voter participation figures to predict winner and loser. A higher turnout, they claim, would favour a particular party, and a lower one, its opponent. One school of thought says high turnouts mean popular anger against ineffectual governance. Another says the opposite, that ruling parties that put up ineffectual governments but have a ground network can mobilise many voters to vote for it.
Neelanjan Sircar, an academic at Ashoka University, has subjected voter turnout data at the constituency level to statistical third degree. His analysis of change in constituency-level voter turnout and its relationship with the BJP’s strike rate in three Lok Sabha polls, 1999, 2004 and 2014, each with respect to the preceding one, is illuminating. Data for 2009 is not compared to data for 2004 because of change in constituency delimitation. Sircar reports a correlation between changes in voter turnout and incumbency. The 1999/1998 data suggests the higher the change in voter turnout, the lower the BJP strike rate. The 2004/1999 data showed a similar trend. The 2014/2009 change correlated strongly positively with BJP success. In 1999 and 2004, BJP was the incumbent and a lower or flat turnout favoured the incumbent. In 2014, a higher turnout routed the incumbent. At the time, Sircar found no positive correlation between rise in the total number of voters, primarily a function of new voters, with the BJP strike rate.
Elections are about numbers, but driving those numbers is chemistry. What plays which role in an actual election is difficult to predict.
This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Economic Times.