UP elections 2022: Lower turnout no indication of parivartan

S Kamran HusainUpdated: Monday, March 07, 2022, 09:41 AM IST
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Even as Uttar Pradesh enters the final phase of elections, a debate has ensued in political circles whether a low or high voter turnout has a direct correlation with the prospects of political parties in fray… even as they say that in politics and especially in polls… anything is possible!

The trend of low turnout in the election continued even in phase six of the crucial polls. Around 55.70 per cent electorate exercised their franchise in the sixth phase of polling in 57 constituencies. The point is, however, contestable that low turnout would harm the ruling party.

There have been elections where higher voting helped the incumbent government. The reverse is equally true. Therefore, no inference can be drawn from the lower voting percentage in the UP election… at least so far. In fact, lower voting than the 2017 election has been a uniform trend in the six phases of polling so far. Most political observers are speculating that lower voting than the previous election could mean a blow to the incumbent government. They argue that the BJP reached its pinnacle in 2017 in UP, in terms of seats, and the low voting this time indicates a downhill journey for the party.

There are theories which suggest that low voting actually helps the BJP because it is a cadre-based party. Voter turnout and election prediction according to a 2018 study by Milan Vaishnav and Jonathan Guy published in the journal, Studies in Indian Politics, that looked at data from 18 major Indian state elections between 1980 and 2012, there is no relationship between voter turnout and the electoral outcome in favour of either ruling or opposition party. However, there is also a theory that a low voter turnout benefits cadre-based parties like the BJP.

The proponents of this theory refer to the book about Indian elections and polling authored by Dr Prannoy Roy and Dorab Sopariwala. Analysing results from the Lok Sabha elections of 2004, 2009 and 2014, the authors conclude that “in each one of the three consecutive elections, the BJP performed much better in constituencies which had a low turnout”.

According to them, the BJP cadres are able to mobilise votes even if voter enthusiasm on average is low. But there are also studies which reveal that the BJP benefits when there is a high voter turnout. Political scientist Neelanjan Sircar has pointed out that the places which saw the highest spike in turnout also corresponded to BJP victories, suggesting that a significant chunk of the new voters were the party supporters, or specifically voting for Prime Minister Narendra Modi. If the UP elections are anything to go by, turnout numbers are no indication of which way the mandate is swinging. Conventional wisdom has been that high turnout numbers correspond to an anti-incumbency effect.

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