ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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An Analysis of General Elections in India

Determinants of Electoral Outcomes

The constituency-level electoral data of 10 parliamentary elections in India, from 1980 to 2014, is used to explore the factors that determine the outcome of parliamentary elections in India. The authors have employed logistic regressions to estimate a vote function with political variables, such as incumbency, political alignment, and political party affiliation, as determinants. That incumbency reduces the chances of winning in close elections, and/or that incumbency disadvantage has been strong in the Hindi belt since the elections of 1998, especially in the states with lower real per capita income, higher share of rural population and low literacy rates are among the various interesting findings that emerge.

Understanding the determinants of elections outcomes has been a major area of research in modern political economy. One approach has been to model the so-called vote functions, the first of which were estimated in the late 1960s and early 1970s (Nannestad and Paldam 1994). Vote functions are usually estimated with votes for or against the government as the dependent binary variable (Kirchgässner 2016). In this paper, we are primarily interested in factors that determine the outcome of an election and hence our focus, unlike that of vote function studies, is not on whether a vote is cast for or against the government, but the win/loss of political parties at the level of the constituency or district in which the election takes place. We focus on the top two contenders in each constituency in each election; and with no loss of generality, consider one of them as the winning party and the other as the runner-up. We seek to explain this election outcome using a variety of political and economic determinants. In all of this, our primary concern is to extract the effect of incumbency on the election outcomes. It may be reiterated that our focus in this paper is on the electoral outcomes for political parties than for individual candidates contesting the election.

According to the vote functions approach, a vote for or against the government is determined by economic and political determinants in the election or pre-election years. An economic link is postulated between the performance of the economy and the support for the government. To the extent that such a link exists, it is called an “economic vote” (Lewis-Beck and Stegmaier 2013). The vote functions literature has generally pointed towards an anti-incumbency effect whenever economic conditions deteriorate beyond a certain threshold (Nannestad and Paldam 1994). This, Liang (2013) points out, is in contrast to some of the incumbency literature which has shown that there are benefits from holding office. This paper seeks to straddle these two areas of research, namely, understanding the determinants of elections outcomes and incumbency. The vote functions literature has been extensively surveyed and we do little more than directing the readers to the surveys by Nannestad and Paldam (1994) and Lewis-Beck and Stegmaier (2013). We do, however, provide a brief overview of the incumbency literature.

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Updated On : 30th Apr, 2019


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