Home >Elections 2019 >Lok Sabha Elections 2019 >How caste and class shape election results in India

One of the notable features of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s historic victory in 2014 was its ability to attract support across social groups, cutting across traditional divides of caste and class. Yet, support for the party was much greater among certain demographic groups than among others, a Mint analysis of district-wise demographic and voting patterns show.

The demographic data has been culled from the unit-level data of the National Family Health Survey 2015-16 released last year, and vote-share data has been aggregated at the district level from the assembly segment data for the 2014 Lok Sabha elections published by the Election Commission of India (ECI).

The analysis shows that the ruling party performed far better on average in affluent districts dominated by upper castes than in the rest of the country. Support for other parties in such districts was relatively lower. Affluence across districts has been measured on the basis of the ownership (of at least six) of the following eight assets: pucca house, electricity connection, phone (landline/mobile), television, AC/cooler, refrigerator, washing machine, and motorized vehicle.

Data from a pre-poll survey conducted by the Lokniti research program at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) conducted in end-March this year suggests that the ruling party continues to be popular among the wealthy and the upper castes even now.

The other big thrust for the BJP’s victories in 2014 came from the other backward classes or OBCs. However, as the accompanying map shows, there was a clear north-south divide, with OBC-heavy districts in the north voting for the BJP, and those in the south voting for regional parties.

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Lokniti survey data suggests that over the years, the BJP has successfully cornered a significant chunk of the relatively backward sub-castes among the OBCs , and a big swing among the ‘lower OBCs’ powered the BJP victory in 2014. BJP leaders have often advocated a sub-categorization of OBCs and a committee for sub-categorization of OBCs was also set up to look into the issue. By portraying upper OBCs as the principal beneficiaries of reservations and government benefits so far, the BJP has been able to drive a wedge between the upper OBCs (and the parties they represent such as the Samajwadi Party in Uttar Pradesh, JD(S) in Karnataka etc.) and the rest of the OBCs, who have lagged behind others in securing state patronage.

Focusing attention on the economically weaker but numerically dominant ‘lower OBCs’, the BJP has been successful in exploiting economic inequalities among sub-castes and jatis to further its own cause. This strategy has been especially successful in the northern parts of the country while in the southern parts, the BJP has largely relied on allies to garner the OBC vote.

Among Scheduled Caste (SC) heavy districts, the BJP’s record was less impressive in 2014 compared to its performance in OBC-heavy districts and Scheduled Tribe (ST)-heavy districts. Most of SC-dominated districts in the country are in Punjab, West Bengal, and Tamil Nadu, none of which are BJP strongholds yet.

While the BJP saw significant swings nationally even among SCs and STs in 2014, its support among these groups have been dented since then, survey data suggest.

Across most social groups, the BJP tends to perform better among the more affluent than among the poor. Among 94 of the 640 districts where the affluent were in a majority, the BJP had the highest vote share in half of them. In the rest, other parties were dominant but their median vote-share lead in those constituencies (13 percentage points) was lower than the median vote-share lead (21 percentage points) in the constituencies BJP dominated. The median vote-share lead was 15 percentage points across all districts of the country in 2014.

What about districts with higher levels of educational attainments? In general, such districts also tend to be among the most affluent and hence it is difficult to disentangle the effects of education and affluence from district level data. Yet, ranking districts based on vote-share margins suggest that affluence may have had slightly more influence on BJP’s vote-share margins than education levels.

It will be interesting to see if 2019 changes these equations and resets India’s political economy once again.

Arjun Srinivas of Mint and howindialives.com contributed to this piece.

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