The India, 2014, result: district-level patterns

Some revision of the thesis the other day is in order, now that I have had a chance to look at the district-level results (as part of a project with Royce Carroll). Again, these are preliminary results, but final results are unlikely to be substantially different.

A key point of my earlier thesis was that this was less a smashing electoral mandate for Modi than it was a product of strategic alliance-building by the BJP and fragmentation of the rest of the field. The BJP, after all, won a majority of seats on a mere 31% of the vote. I think most of that thesis remains accurate, but should be modified in one crucial respect now that I have seen the district-level patterns.

First of all, the BJP’s biggest advantage was not that it faced fragmented opposition, but simply that it had a highly efficient distribution of its votes. Had fragmentation been the key to its success, we would expect it to have won many seats with under 45% of the vote, maybe under 40%. In fact, its mean winning percentage was 48.8%. If anyone benefited from fragmentation, it was the Indian National Congress, whose mean winning percentage was only 42.8%. (The difference is statistically significant–easily.) The BJP averaged 32.6% where it came second, so it is not as if it lost many close races. In fact, out of the 54 seats where it came in second, there were just ten seats in which the BJP had over 40% of the vote. (Congress averaged 33.0% where it came second; that was 223 districts, including 44 where it had over 40%. In percentage terms, that’s about the same failure rate in 40%+ districts.) It seems that the BJP put its resources into winnable seats and thus wasted few votes outside of places where it could harvest seats.

[Paragraph that contained an incorrect statement about the 1999 national result removed.]

Moreover, as I said in the earlier post, alliances were indeed critical. It is impossible to know how many fewer seats the BJP might have won without stand-down agreements with parties like Shiv Sena (Maharashtra) and Telugu Desam Party (Seemandhra), but these and other parties’ voters gave votes to BJP candidates that could have been decisive in many seats in their respective states.

The efficiency of both the BJP and its ally is really on display in Maharashtra. There, the BJP contested 24 districts, and averaged 54.6% of the votes; it won 23. Its ally, Shivsena contested 20, averaging 50.4%, and won 18. In those 18 seats won by Shivsena, Congress was the runner-up in 8 (averaging 34.4%) and its ally Nationalist Congress Party was runner-up in 7 (averaging 33.1%). The results are remarkably stable across the alliance pairings.

All in all, the victory is a combination of a very favorable swing (the BJP had won less than 19% in 2009), an organization that allowed it to target seats where it could win close to a majority of votes and not spread itself thinly around the country, and assistance from key regional allies.

14 thoughts on “The India, 2014, result: district-level patterns

  1. The BJP won an absolute majority on 31% of the vote. Would this be the smallest vote percentage ever of a party winning a majority? When one party wins an absolute majority, and forms a coalition even though it doesn’t have it, is this a majority government or a majority plus government?

    • Rob, at the national level, maybe. But for a more drastic case, look at Uttar Pradesh, 2012.

      The NDA’s majority on around 37% of the votes is not that unusual in comparative terms, although the majority (62%) is bigger than most manufactured majorities based on less than 40% of the vote. Roughly comparable cases would include British Columbia 1960 (Social Credit, 38.8% votes, 61.5% seats), Ontario 1990 (NDP, 37.6%, 56.9%), Canada 1997 (Liberal, 38.5%, 51.5%), and New Zealand 1993 (National, 35%, 50.5%). Even though some of those cases have narrower majorities, I would be willing to wager that their narrow majorities were more reliably cohesive than the NDA’s will be.

      And, yes, that the BJP alone has a majority on only 31% is highly noteworthy, but in assessing the size of the manufactured majority, I do think the relevant consideration is the alliances, given that the BJP obviously can’t collect votes (or seats) in districts where it is not running due to an agreement with an ally.

  2. MSS, for 1999 election you’re mixing up the BJP and NDA figures! I checked several sources, and they all say the BJP had 182 seats on just under 24% of the vote. 270 on 37% is almost certainly the total NDA figure, A common mistake, obviously, but not inconsequential for the comparison: Modi got a 7% higher share of the vote and a full 100 more seats than Vajpayee in ’99.

    • JD, it looks like you are right. Thanks. The figures are from Wikipedia, and are correct, but there is a slight misalignment of the rows across columns, such that the NDA figure (37.06%) appears almost in the line with the BJP name. The BJP looks to have had 23.75% in 1999.

  3. India calls itself the world’s largest democracy, but it actually has the world’s largest phony majority government.

    Narendra Modi’s BJP and its allies won 37.1% of the votes and 61.7% of the seats, 336 seats of the 545 seats.

    The BJP itself won 282 of the 545 seats with only 31.1% of the vote, but that is misleading. The BJP contested only 427 seats, allocating 115 others to its 21 allies in electoral alliances (called “seat adjustments” in India).

    India’s population is 14.6% Muslim, yet the BJP, the Hindu-values party, does not have a single Muslim MP.

    Although 37.1% of Indians voted for the BJP and its allies, that leaves 62.9% who did not. But they splintered between Congress and allies (22.7%) and others (40.2%). The election was a rejection of Congress as much as a victory for the BJP. The Congress has been brought to the verge of extinction, with only 44 of the 543 seats.

    Where there was a single secular non-Congress alternative, it often swept the state.

    In Tamil Nadu, Jayalalithaa’s party jumped from 9 seats to 37 out of 39. In Bengal, Trinamul jumped from 19 seats to 34 of 42. In Odisha, the BJD rose from 14 to 20 of the 21. In Telangana, the TRS swept 12 of 17. In Kerala, when Congress lost 5 seats the Left gained 4. In Punjab, when Congress lost 5 seats the new AAP (“common man” party) picked up 4.

    Only in six states in the Hindu heartland did the BJP and allies get over 50%: Haryana (65.2%), Gujarat (59.1%), Uttarakhand (55.3%), Rajasthan (54.9%), Madhya Pradesh (54.0%), and Maharashtra (including Mumbai) (50.2%). In Chhattisgarh it got 48.7%.

    In four more of Hindu heartland provinces the BJP won only after the secular parties fragmented. In Uttar Pradesh, the BJP and allies got only 43.3%, but won 91% of the seats when the secular Samajwadi (socialist) got 22.2%, BSP 19.6%, Congress and allies 8.4%. In Bihar, the BJP and its allies won only 38.8% of the vote but got 77.5% of the seats when Congress and allies got 29.7%, while the progressive JD(U) which leads the Bihar government got 15.8%. In Delhi the BJP won all the seats with 46.4% of the vote when the new Common Man Party got 32.9% and Congress got 15.1%. In Jharkhand the BJP got only 40.1%, but won 86% of the seats after Congress and allies got only 24.2% while the progressive JVM got 12.1% and various local splinters won many votes also.

    (The BJP’s regional allies included its Maharashtra sister party Shiv Sena which contested 20 and won 18, its Andhra Pradesh ally TDP which contested 30 and won 16, its Bihar ally LJP which contested seven and won six, its other Bihar ally RLS which contested three seats and won all three, its Punjabi ally the Shiromani Akali Dal which contested 10 and won four, its small Uttar Pradesh ally Apna Dal which contested two seats and won both, its Tamil Nadu ally PMK which contested eight and won one, its little ally Swabhimani Paksha which contested two seats and won one, its Meghalaya ally NPP which won the one seat it contested, its Puducherry ally NRC which won that seat, and its Nagaland ally the NPF which won that seat. It had ten other small allies who won nothing. That accounts for 542 of the 545 seats. The BJP left two seats in Haryana for its semi-ally the INLD, which pledged to support the BJP but insisted on running in all 10 ridings; it won only the two the BJP left for it.)

  4. Phony majority government is right. The votes to seats don’t translate very well. FPTP is a very harsh electoral system. It forces parties to merge or to make seat adjustment alliances. Was the FPTP electoral system a good choice for India at independence, and could have prevented the partition, but that is for alternative historians, and is it a good system right now?

    It doesn’t seem to represent geographically disperse minorities like India’s Muslims very well. If India has PR, then Muslims could if they wanted to seek separate political representation. The Congress Party seems to be face the dilemma that Europe’s Liberal Parties faced with the rise of the Social Democratic parties in Europe before World War 1. PR would lead to more long term planning, and consistently policy making.

    The news media seems to be the biggest offender saying that this is a wave election, but looking at the election results paint a much more complex, complicated, and ambiguous election result. The BJP will have to be careful, and tread lightly, because the mandate it is has is false.

    • The problem wasn’t FPTP at Independence, the problem was FPTP in the dyarchic governments that preceded Independence.

      I suspect the Congress simply never considered a different electoral system and FPTP served the British extremely well, not least by ensuring the dominance of the Muslim League in Muslim majority areas. In turn, League dominance in those areas enabled the divided India narrative the British repeatedly advanced as a reason to delay or postpone independence.

      The Government of India Act 1919 left the electoral system up to rules to be made by the Governor-General. The Government of India Act 1935 kept the electoral system under rules but transferred the rule-making power to the King-Emperor in Council. The Congress actually had quite a lot of contact with the Irish nationalist movement and it’s a great pity they did not think to ask about Ireland’s electoral system

      • The Congress certainly knew about proportional representation. The Council of States (Rajya Sabha) has been elected by STV since its first election in 1952. Members are elected by the elected members of the Assemblies of States and Union territories in accordance with the system of proportional representation by means of the single transferable vote. MLAs could handle it. Voters, perhaps not, especially considering the size of Indian constituencies. And German MMP was still emerging at Indian independence. Of course, STV is not highly proportional. For example, Karnataka has 12 Rajya Sabha members, four chosen every two years for six year terms.

        Calcutta had an elected municipal council since 1876, and Bengal a provincial legislature since 1909, but the Muslim minority had been poorly represented. A cumulative vote system with three-member wards in Calcutta had failed to give them confidence. They demanded separate electorates and separate seats in the period 1909-23. While Ireland in 1920 tried to use STV to give guarantees to the Protestant minority, in India Muslims and Sikhs insisted on separate electorates. The best Gandhi could do was create a single Hindu electorate with guaranteed representation for the dalits (“Depressed Classes”), but rather than use STV for this (which I assume the dalit leader Dr. Ambedkar did not trust), the Poona Pact of 1932 gave them “reserved seats,” a system which continues to this day. When India obtained independence in 1947, the winner-take-all system with reserved seats was too entrenched to be changed.

  5. Oddly enough, the Rajya Sabha most closely resembles the senate created by the South Africa Act 1909, the constitution for the white minority regime before South Africa became a republic. That senate was indirectly elected using STV. Australia had recently (1948) adopted STV for the federal senate and NSW had long used STV for the indirect election of the NSW legislative council. The Commonwealth precedents for indirectly elected upper houses were to use STV.

  6. The Rayja Sabha is about to prove its usefulness. The BJP needs a token Muslim for its cabinet, to assure India’s trading partners that the new government is not as anti-Muslim as it sounds. Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, a Rajya Sabha MP, is the only Muslim face of the BJP in both Houses of Parliament. A shoo-in for cabinet.

  7. As an exercise for kicks, What if India used Papua New Guinea’s Limited Preferential Vote System? What would the result be? Would it have been easier for Congress to win more seats? Would there be seat adjustments?

    • Kicks indeed. Unknowable, of course, but I am going to say approximately zero more for Congress. They suffered from anti-incumbency, and it’s a bit unlikely that lots of voters who voted for smaller parties (smaller in their own district) favored Congress over BJP. Just a hunch, not anything we can dignify with a fancy Greek word like “hypothesis”, given that it is untestable.

  8. Minor parties have, in recent years, called for proportional representation in India. Now the venerable DMK (founded in 1949) has done so, it may be taken more seriously, especially since “a resolution adopted at Monday’s meeting also recalled the DMK founder C.N. Annadurai’s advocacy for proportional representation.”
    The winner in Tamil Nadu this year was the AIADMK, but both DMK factions revere DMK founder Annadurai (1909-1969), the first Dravidian party member to be Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu. The DMK started as leftist, separatist, and secular if not atheist, claiming Indian independence would result in Hindi-speaking Aryans dominating the south. The Madras Presidency (later Madras State) had its own Prime Minister since 1920, and only in 1963 did the DMK drop its demand for a separate “Land of Dravidians.” Finally in 1967 the DMK-led United Front, including the communist and socialist parties, put “Anna” in office as Chief Minister of what was renamed two years later as Tamil Nadu. In 1969 on his death he was succeeded by Muthuvel Karunanidhi who remains head of the DMK to this day, although his son Muthuvel Karunanidhi Stalin (yes, named for Stalin the week before Stalin died; elected Mayor of Chennai in 1996) is poised to succeed him.

    In the recent election, the AIADMK won 37 of 39 Lok Sabha seats (1 BJP, 1 PMK), while the DMK lost all 18 of its seats. The BJP’s alliance included the DMDK, PMK, and MDMK.
    Parties getting over 3%, and their proportional share of Lok Sabha seats, were:
    AIADMK 44.3% – 19
    DMK 23.6% – 10
    BJP 5.5% – 2
    DMDK 5.1% – 2
    PMK 4.4% – 2
    INC 4.3% – 2
    MDMK 3.5% – 2

    The loser is Jayalalithaa’s AIADMK, but she is on the outside looking in at the Modi government. The BJP’s alliance would have eight members, not two. Even Congress would pick up a couple.

    “Now many national parties are also advocating the idea,” the DMK’s resolution pointed out and asked the Centre and the Election Commission of India to consider the proposal seriously. Perhaps the ECI will?

    • More joining in: “The DMK rooting for a proportional representation (PR) system has brought to the fore a similar demand made by other parties in Tamil Nadu . . . Pattali Makkal Katchi founder S. Ramadoss is a strong advocate of the system. CPI(M) State secretary G. Ramakrishnan has also welcomed the DMK’s demand. . . .the DMK flagging the issue has rekindled a virtually forgotten debate in Tamil Nadu.”

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