The Election Commission is likely to announce the election dates for 2019 anytime now. Speculations are rife as to who will win the elections. Pre-poll surveys which were predicting a hung Parliament are re-assessing the situation after surgical strike 2.0. In my opinion these three key factors will determine who wins 2019.
1. To what extent these elections are held Presidential style (Presidential vs Local)
General elections in India are increasingly becoming Presidential style. In 2014 Modi’s persona weighed heavier than any other parameter. According to CSDS which carried out a National Election Study 2014, 28% voters gave importance to PM candidate, 26% to the local candidate and 18% to state level leadership. PM candidate emerged as the top most consideration for voters. With opposition not putting up any PM candidate, Modi had an open field of sorts. Further, 27% people who voted for BJP in 2014, had not done so if Modi was not the PM candidate. This fetched BJP around 5 crore votes out of its total 17 crore votes.
The opposition cannot afford to run a presidential style election this time if it wants to win. Though Rahul is catching up with Modi on popularity ratings, PM is still ahead in the race. Congress and anti-BJP regional parties need to raise the issues on the ground and failures of the existing MP of BJP to exploit the agrarian / rural distress and unemployment issue. Opposition will have to convert a single / national election into 543 mini contests.
Terrorist attack like Pulwama and response in form of Surgical strike 2.0 is helping BJP to make it a Presidential ‘majboot versus majboor sarkar’ contest. The opposition is falling in to the trap by raising the issue of number of casualties. Congress needs to learn from its victories in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh where it downplayed the leadership angle and focused on local issues, failures of local representatives rather than just targeting Shivraj Chouhan and Raman Singh.
2. First time voters and their preference
In 2019, 8 crore plus voters aged 18-19 will be voting for the first time in Lok Sabha elections. The total voting population is expected to increase from 81 crores in 2014 to 90 crores in 2019. This number is likely to go up as dates for enrollment are still open. As per an Indian Express report, in 282 seats, first time voters are more than the winning margin in 2019. On an average 1.5 lakh first time voters have registered for each seat. A large section of these first-time young voters may not be tied to any ideology. 29.4% of first-time voters were not supporters of any party as per NES 2014. They are more likely to vote for development rather than caste considerations alone. A media survey in 2014 said that almost half of 15 crore first time voters in the 2014 general election, wanted to see Modi as PM. The turnout among these voters is also higher than other age groups.
Realizing their importance, BJP has made this as their focus group for 2019 polls. In a rally in Chennai on January 14, 2019, Modi asserted that BJP is the natural choice for first-time voters as they are not interested in dynasty parties. He exhorted party workers to organize meetings with first time voters and educate them about his government’s developmental projects.
Congress is also gearing up to get this set of voters on their side. As per an Economic Times report, its manifesto could include, providing English lessons to students in remote areas, sorting out paying guest accommodation of girl students from northeastern states and take initiatives to boost women’s security.
3. Quantum of undecided voters and herd mentality
14% respondents in NES 2014 stated that they decided whom to vote for only on the day of voting. Another 11% just 1 or 2 days before the D-day. This is significant, one-fourth of voters who polled in 2014, meaning about 14 crores out of 55 crores who voted in 2014. This trend was visible not only in 2014 but also in 2004 and 2009 polls. A large section among them could be herd mentality voters, who normally go with the wave. In a wave less election like 2019, these voters could hold the keys to government formation. The real challenge for campaign strategists is to convert this set of voters and bring them in party fold
On the day of voting
|A day or two before voting||14.0%||11.0%||
To sum up, an exciting contest on the anvil in 2019. Whether BJP or Congress depends upon the ability of ruling party / opposition to nationalize / localize the elections and impress the first time and undecided voters.