Opinion | Lok Sabha Polls: How To Read The Low Turnout In First Two Phases

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The polling in Phase 2 of the Lok Sabha elections, covering 88 seats, has registered a turnout of 66.7%, approximately 3 percentage points (pp) lower than in 2019. This decline occurred despite several appeals by the Prime Minister during his rallies encouraging higher voter participation, a post-Phase 1 meeting by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to energise its cadre, and various measures implemented by the Election Commission of India to enhance the polling percentage, including extending polling hours in select constituencies.

Of the 13 states and Union Territories that went to the polls, only Chhattisgarh and Karnataka recorded an increase in polling. On the other hand, states in the Hindi heartland, such as Bihar (-3.5 pp), Madhya Pradesh (-9.1 pp), Uttar Pradesh (-7 pp), and Rajasthan (-3.4 pp) experienced lower turnouts, as did states with historically higher turnouts like West Bengal (-4.1 pp) and Kerala (-6.5 pp).

Voter Turnout & Electoral Results

Generally, a higher voter turnout is considered an indication of change, while a low turnout suggests continuity. However, there is no clear correlation or trend evident in the data.

From 1951-52 to 2019, there have been 17 Lok Sabha elections. In 16 elections from 1957 to 2019, the turnout declined six times and increased 10 times. Of the 10 times the turnout increased, the incumbent lost four times and won in six elections, resulting in a 60% repetition rate. Of the six times the turnout decreased, the incumbent lost four times and won twice, indicating a 33% repetition rate.

BJP Governments

The BJP has formed governments five times, in 1996 (for 13 days), 1998 (for 13 months), 1999, 2014, and 2019. Except in 1999, higher turnouts were seen in the remaining four elections. Thus, 80% of the time the BJP has formed governments, it has been following an increased polling percentage. 

The data indicates that a higher polling percentage is crucial for the BJP. This is evident in the party's proactive approach to address the lack of enthusiasm among voters after the lower turnout in Phase 1, a move publicly acknowledged by the BJP while other parties likely undertook similar assessments without public disclosure.

Politics Behind Low Voting

In Madhya Pradesh, a 9 pp drop in women's turnout may be attributed to Shivraj Singh Chouhan's absence from the campaign.

In Bihar, where all contested seats were held by Janata Dal (United) (JD-U) candidates, disillusionment among a section of supporters may stem from Nitish Kumar's fluctuating alliances and controversial statements.

In Uttar Pradesh, despite the Jat anger and farmers' protests, the shift of Jayant Chaudhary's Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) from the INDIA bloc to the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) seemingly lacks support from the community.

In Maharashtra, confusion persists among voters and supporters regarding who the real Shiv Sena and the real NCP are. This has led to discontent among some BJP supporters too, it seems.

In conclusion, any analysis of voter turnout is bound to be multifaceted. Its impact on the actual results remains to be seen.

(Amitabh Tiwari is a political strategist and commentator. In his earlier avatar, he was a corporate and investment banker)

Disclaimer: These are the personal opinions of the author.