New Delhi: The high-stakes elections for 222 assembly seats in Karnataka saw the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) increase its tally from 40 seats that it secured in 2013 to 104.

While the BJP emerged as the single largest party in the Karnataka polls with 36.2% of the total votes polled, the incumbent Indian National Congress polled more votes with a 38% vote share, but failed to convert these into seats. Congress won 78 seats, data from the Election Commission showed.

The Janata Dal Secular’s—JD(S)—vote share declined to 18.3% from 20.19% in the previous assembly elections, with the party winning 37 seats, as compared to 40 in the previous elections.

Interestingly, no incumbent government has been re-elected in Karnataka since 1985.

Given that the BJP could transform a lower vote share to more seats than the Congress shows that Congress’s votes were more scattered across the state, while the BJP achieved a better strike rate by concentrating its leads in coastal and central parts of Karnataka.

The Congress’s state-wide appeal, unlike the other two parties in the fray, in effect proved to be its downfall.

The trend indicates that both BJP and JD(S) voters were concentrated in particular regions of the state and voted for their respective party en masse giving them big victories, which ultimately led to the Congress’s downfall. Even in the seats that the Congress did manage to win, nearly 40% of them were narrow wins.

While both the BJP as well as the JD(S) won half their seats with huge victory margins (with 10% more votes than the runner up), the Congress won only a third of its seats in a similar fashion.

“The Congress’s vote has been more spread out in Karnataka historically," said Sanjay Kumar of Centre for the Study of Developing Societies. “A similar trend played out in 2008 and 2013 as well. The BJP is also largely not present in southern Karnataka, which means most of the party’s state-wide vote share came from far fewer constituencies ."

While JD(S)’s traditional Vokkaliga voters gave the party a significant boost in southern Karnataka, defeating even the incumbent chief minister Siddharamiah, BJP gathered a bulk of its state-wide votes from central and coastal Karnataka. This type of polarization meant only the Congress weathered the brunt of the three-cornered fight, while both the BJP and JD(S) effectively never contested against each other.

“While there might have been greater polarization along communal and caste lines, the key factor behind the lopsided votes to seats ratio is simply that BJP voters were concentrated in some constituencies while Congress supporters were spread more evenly," Kumar added.

The election results also sets the narrative for 2019 general elections with Karnataka having 28 Lok Sabha seats. In the 2014 elections, BJP won 17 seats with a 43% vote share and Congress won nine seats by securing 40.8% of the total votes. With a 11% vote share, the JD(S) got two LS seats.

Sayantan Bera contributed to the story.

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