As the election 2019 season enters the final lap with polling left only for one phase of the seven scheduled, voter turnout this time around is likely to create a record. According to reports, the 2019 election is on track to achieve record voter turnout of around 67 per cent (55 – 56 million new voters relative to 2014 general elections), which would surpass the previous record of 66.4 per cent during the 2014 polls.
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As per the data available with the Election Commission of India (ECI), voter turnout in the first four phases stood at 69.5 per cent (first phase), 69.44 per cent (second phase), 68.4 per cent (third phase) and 65.51 per cent (fourth phase).
Constituency-wise comparison, as per a Nomura report suggests that in the first four phases (around 69 per cent of the seats), increased voter participation was concentrated in the key Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) bastions of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Assam and Karnataka.ALSO READ: UP to dent BJP tally, BSP-NDA post-poll alliance possible: Ambit Capital
“The two outliers are Andhra Pradesh and Kerala, where voter turnout was high, but the BJP’s prospects have traditionally been weak,” the report says.
So, will the BJP/National Democratic Alliance (NDA) benefit from this higher voter turnout or will it succumb to anti-incumbency?
Both theoretical and empirical studies, according to Nomura, have struggled to find causality between voter turnout and election outcomes. In past Lok Sabha elections, there have been anti-incumbency outcomes during both high and low turnout elections.
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“On the one hand, increased voter turnout may indicate a strong sense of dissatisfaction that has led to voters coalescing to boot out the incumbent, although studies have disputed this causality in previous elections,” wrote Sonal Varma, managing director and chief India economist at Nomura in a recent co-authored report with Aurodeep Nandi.
Adding: “On the other hand, high voter turnout could reflect active participation at the grass root level, with the party cadre coaxing citizens to vote. It may also be indicative of more structural, party-agnostic trends, wherein increased social media outreach, general political awareness and ease of voting contribute to participation of previously dormant registered voters.”
Their analysis suggests that increased voter turnout seems to be concentrated in states where the voters have been at the forefront of the ongoing rural distress and have recently expressed anti-incumbency views against the BJP. These states form the ‘Hindi heartland’ states for the BJP. As a base-case, Nomura expects Narendra Modi – led NDA to return to power, albeit with a reduced majority.
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This view has also been endorsed by other brokerages such as Ambit Capital and CLSA, who see Modi returning to power for the second time around, but with reduced numbers. The state of Uttar Pradesh (UP), according to Ambit, remains the key for the overall tally for NDA. The electoral alliance between the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), the Samajwadi Party (SP), and the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) is certain to dent BJP’s seat count in UP, Ambit says.