In the cut-throat election contest in India, political parties are focused on turning votes into winning seats. The reason -- history shows that a party can form a government by garnering support from just a quarter of the total electorate.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party and Rahul Gandhi’s main opposition Congress party are trying to raise vote shares -- the percentage of total votes polled -- in their favour as the country's election moves into its final phase.
In India's first-past-the-post system, with a large number of contenders for each seat, the winner just needs to get enough votes to win. The person doesn't need to get most of the popular votes. For instance in 2014, Bhujan Samaj Party garnered 4.2% of the votes but failed to win a single constituency, while the Communist Party of India lured 0.79% of the votes and managed to wrest 1 seat. The BJP with 31.3% vote share won 282.
One crucial factor that affects winning elections is number of candidates in the fray in a constituency and how the votes are distributed among them, said N. Bhaskara Rao, chairman of the Centre for Media Studies, a New Delhi-based think tank.
The number of votes polled for a party might be a barometer for its popularity, but what ultimately matters are seats -- a single party or allied group of parties needs 272 in the lower house of the parliament to beat others to form the government.
In Madhya Pradesh state assembly polls in December, the Congress and BJP’s vote share was almost equal, but Congress won five more seats than its rival and formed the government. Similarly in Rajasthan, the difference in votes between BJP and Congress was just 0.5%, but Congress wrested power from BJP by winning in 16 more seats.