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What Swayed the Delhi Voters towards BJP?

Biswajit Mohanty (mohantyagastya@gmail.com) teaches at the Department of Political Science, Deshbandhu College, New Delhi.

In a triangular contest in Delhi, the Bharatiya Janata Party won all the seven Lok Sabha seats. The National Election Study 2019 of the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies–Lokniti points towards three reasons for the BJP’s victory. The first is the increasing gravitation of Delhi voters towards the BJP in Lok Sabha polls. The second is the satisfaction of voters with BJP’s governance at the centre. The final factor is that the BJP gained votes among all segments of society.

Delhi saw a triangular contest fought between the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) ruling at the state, a resurgent Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in power at the centre. The BJP won all the seven seats and had a lead of more than 3,00,000 votes over its nearest rival in every constituency (Table 1). The vote share of the Congress saw a rise as compared to the 2014 elections. On the other hand, the AAP saw a decline in its vote share.

 

In spite of the reasonably good image of the AAP government in Delhi, why was it not able to open its account in Delhi? Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal wrote an open letter to AAP’s volunteers highlighting what he thought were the factors responsible for their poor performance. He saw two reasons for the party’s debacle in Delhi. The first reason he said was that it was an election between Rahul Gandhi and Narendra Modi that “rubbed off” on Delhi’s electorates. The second fact according to him was that the public imagination got stuck in the mire of a Hobbson’s choice losing sight of the developmental work done by the AAP government. The fundamental puzzle still remains. While Odisha, Telangana and Punjab governments could buck the national order, why is it that Delhi moved in a different direction?

The article has used the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies–Lokniti post-poll survey data to answer the puzzle. It argues that there are three reasons for the BJP’s impressive win. The first reason is that Delhi’s voters were clear on their choice of the ruling party for the centre. Second, the high satisfaction levels with the BJP’s governance at the centre could be another factor. The third reason is the shifting of votes from the AAP to the BJP across all the sections of society.

Party Identification

Party identification is a psychological identification by the voters that does not require any legal recognition or any evidence of formal membership nor any record of consistent support to the party (Campbell et al 1980: 121–22). Miller and Shanks maintain that party identification is a political attitude, and like any other attitude, is vulnerable to external short-term factors and is “endogenous to explanation of electoral behaviour” (Miller and Shanks 1996: 130). In their view, party identification by voters is a function of the assortment of issues and policy preferences held by voters before the elections take place. Keeping this framework we can explain who identified which party, when and why?

The major yardstick for gauging affective orientation of the voter towards the party is their self-classification as supporters of the party (Campbell et al 1980: 122). When respondents were asked which party they feel close to, two of every 10 stated that they felt close to the BJP, one of every 10 felt close to the Congress and another one of every 10 felt close to the AAP. When respondents were probed whether their voting preference would have changed had Narendra Modi not been declared as the prime ministerial candidate for the BJP, more than half of those who said that they voted for the BJP stated that it would have made no difference to them. It shows that the BJP had enormous ground-level ­support among Delhi’s electorate.

The Congress, BJP and AAP had announced their list of candidates at three different time spans. AAP was the first party to declare its candidates despite the ongoing talk of alliance with the Congress. The Congress was the last party to decide and declare the candidates list. Table 2 clearly indicates that a large segment of those who decided on whom to vote for early during the campaign or before the elections were announced, favoured the BJP. The Congress and BJP drew equal support from those who decided who to vote for a few days ­before voting. AAP did gain some support among those who decided on who to vote for on the election day. The question remains: What caused them to decide beforehand to vote for the party of their choice?

 

Reasons for Party Identification

Researchers have found out that party identification is an outcome of the policy position of individuals, candidates and performance evaluation and effects of past voting on individual’s party preferences (Groenendyk 2013: 3). The literature on policy issues and party conversion basically argue that the views citizens hold towards a specific issue drives them to vote for a particular party. The parties choose those “realigning issues” that would “arouse passion of the mass public” and propel the citizens to vote for a particular party (Carsey and Layman 2004: 4). The challenge, often is converting the passion into votes for the party.

All the parties in Delhi went to the voters with different issues to appeal for votes during their campaign. The Congress party focused on its social justice agenda and sought to highlight what is projected as the corruption of the Modi government during its campaign. AAP sought votes on the basis of its achievements in Delhi in implementing a range of social welfare schemes, especially linked to education and health, as well as the demand for statehood for Delhi. The BJP also highlighted the welfare schemes of the central government—Ujjawala, housing schemes—as well as national security issues. Did these partisan issues affect the BJP?

The partisan issues have not swayed voters from their decision to vote for the BJP (Table 3). Two reasons can be assigned for the failure of the partisan ­issues to catch voter’s imagination. The first reason is the high level of satisfaction among Delhi voters with the performance of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government at the centre. Close to three-fourths of the Delhi voters stated that they were satisfied with the performance of the NDA government and close to half of the respondents said that they have benefited from the developmental work carried out by it. Over four of every 10 respondents stated that they are satisfied with their members of Parliament’s performance. Close to six of every 10 respondents were keen to give the BJP-led NDA a second term in office.

The second reason is the popularity of Prime Minister Modi and his image as a strong and clean leader. When respondents were asked to identify their candidate for the Prime Minister, more than half the respondents chose Modi and he had a lead of 36 percentage points over Rahul Gandhi.

The high level of voter satisfaction with the central government’s performance and the popularity of the Prime Minister clearly propelled the BJP to the impressive victory it achieved in Delhi.

AAP’s Downward Slide

In comparison to the 2014 polls, the dipping vote share of AAP among different sections of voters finally resulted in its downward slide in Delhi (Table 4). The BJP has further consolidated the upper-caste voters in its favour. The Dalit support to AAP in 2014 appears to have slipped five years down the line. In addition, the Muslim voters seem to have shifted from AAP to the Congress. Among the Other Backward Classes, the BJP has gained significantly in comparison to the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.

Conclusions

While the Delhi voter unequivocally endorsed the claims of the BJP and the party won all the seats in this region, one would need to wait and see if the trend in the Lok Sabha polls is repeated in the assembly election. It must be mentioned that more than half the respondents in the survey stated that they would like AAP to come to power again and were satisfied with the welfare schemes of the Delhi government. More than one-third of the respondents favoured Arvind Kejriwal as the chief minister of Delhi. While the BJP was the clear choice in a national election, one would look out for how the story unfolds in the assembly polls.

References

Campbell, Angus, Philip E Converse, Warren E Miller and Donald E Stokes (1980): The American Voter, Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Carsey, Thomas M and Geoffrey C Layman (2004): “Changing Sides or Changing Minds? Party Conversion, Issue Conversion, and Partisan Change on the Abortion Issue,” http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.580.4790&rep=rep1&type=pdf, viewed on 27 June 2019.

Groenendyk, Eric W (2013): How Loyalty and Responsiveness Shape Party Identification and Democracy, New York: Oxford University Press.

Miller and Shanks (1996): The New American Voter, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Updated On : 9th Aug, 2019

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