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Photo: PTI
Photo: PTI

Karnataka cliffhanger: 3 trends that explain the split election verdict

BJP's improved performance in 2018 seems to be driven partly by a consolidation of non-Dalit and non-Muslim voters

Mumbai: The Karnataka assembly elections were important for each of the three major parties, and each has found something to take away from the verdict. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) can claim success in emerging as the single largest party. The Congress can claim to have managed anti-incumbency with a fair degree of success by retaining its vote-share although its seat-share has plunged. The Janata Dal (Secular) or JD(S) has managed to nearly retain its seat-share in the assembly although its vote-share has declined compared to the previous assembly election in 2013.

However, the factors behind the performance of each of the parties appear to be different, an analysis of election and demographic data shows.

BJP’s gain in seats seems to be driven partly by a consolidation of non-Dalit and non-Muslim voters. The party won a whopping 72% of seats where the share of Dalits and Muslims is low (below 30%). In contrast, in districts where Dalits and Muslims account for a higher fraction of the population, the BJP’s seat-share is significantly lower. This is a pattern that has been observed in other states as well, and Karnataka is no exception, the results show.

The relative resilience of the Congress seems to be driven by the party’s ability to retain poor voters. In districts with a low share of well-off households, the Congress won 42% of all seats, which was significantly higher than its seat-share in districts with high shares of well-off households.

The community-wise break-up of voters across districts is based on the unit-level data of the National Family Health Survey (NFHS) conducted in 2015-16, and released earlier this year. The share of well-off households has also been estimated from the same source.

It is possible that the welfare schemes launched by the incumbent Congress chief minister, Siddaramaiah, played a role in cementing support for the Congress among worse-off sections of Karnataka. The JD(S) has relied on its traditional bastion of south Karnataka to fight back against the two national parties, and retain its seat-share. One of every two JD(S) voter in the 2018 assembly election is from south Karnataka.

In contrast, BJP and the Congress have a much more diversified voter base across the state. BJP has relatively low presence in south Karnataka, and even in the latest election, has not been able to make significant inroads in this region.

The Congress’s voter base is spread most evenly across the state, which also explains why the party has had a lower success rate in converting votes to seats compared to the BJP and the JD(S).

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