The Karnataka Assembly elections, scheduled in April-May 2018, are critical for the Indian National Congress (INC), Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and the State’s largest regional party – Janata Dal – Secular (JDS).
The ruling party, the INC, would like to retain its largest ruling State. A win for the INC is also important as it has recently lost four States – Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Manipur, and Goa, and now rules only a few States. The JDS would fight with all its might just to remain relevant in Karnataka politics. The party would make every attempt to increase its vote share, even though it may not emerge as the largest party.
The BJP will like to win the Assembly election for many reasons – the win will be seen as their re-entry into south India; this will be seen as one of the largest milestones in their ‘Çongress-Mukt’ campaign; and it will be a big morale booster for the 2019 parliamentary elections.
Let us analyse the last two Assembly and parliamentary election results in Karnataka. Though the voting pattern in the Assembly and parliamentary elections are different, the trends suggest the mood of the voters.
All the parties, both national and regional, will experiment with all possible tricks to win most votes. The JDS has been hovering around 20% vote share for the last three Assembly elections. In the 2008 and 2014 Assembly elections, the JDS got 19% and 20.2% votes respectively. The party enjoys a very strong loyal voter base in certain parts of the State, which has helped it remain relevant in Karnataka politics.
But the numbers of last two Assembly and parliamentary elections suggest that the real battle has been between the two national parties – INC and BJP. The gap in the vote share of the INC and BJP in recent elections has been very close. The INC in the 2008 and 2014 Assembly elections got 34.8% and 36.6% votes. The BJP during the same period got 33.9% and 32.4% votes. The number suggests that the difference in the vote share is not very high.
It is also important to analyse the vote share dynamics of the parliamentary election, which is very different from that of the Assembly elections. In the 2009 and 2014 parliamentary elections, the JDS managed to get 11.1% and 13.6% votes. This shows a deviation of roughly eight percentage points in the parliamentary and Assembly elections. This was mostly added to the vote share of the INC and the BJP.
In the 2009 and 2014 parliamentary elections, the INC got 37.6% and 41.2% votes, which is roughly a 4 percentage points gain in the vote share from the Assembly elections. In the same elections, the BJP got 41.6% and 43.4% votes — roughly an 8 percentage points gain in the vote share from the Assembly elections. So, the BJP has been more effective in the parliamentary elections.
Floating Voters Key
It is very clear from the numbers of the last two Assembly and parliamentary elections that the real fight in Karnataka has been between the national parties – INC and BJP. The JDS has been playing an effective role of kingmaker or a spoiler.
The numbers also suggest that the BJP and the INC have been winning the fence or last-minute voters. These last-minute voters have been deciding the fate of the elections in Karnataka. The same last-minute voters would decide the fate of the Assembly elections in 2018.
Recent Opinion Polls
It is also important to explore the numbers of the recent opinion poll results. In recent times, the two separate agencies – Creative Center for Political and Social Studies (COPS) and C-Fore have conducted surveys, which have thrown two different set of results.
The COPS has given the INC 86 seats, BJP 113 seats and the JDS 25 seats. It predicts that the INC would win a majority of the seats in Old Mysuru and Bangalore region and the BJP will make a clean sweep in Coastal Karnataka, Mumbai-Karnataka and Hyderabad-Karnataka regions. However, in Central Karnataka, both the INC and the BJP could win an equal number of seats.
The C-Fore survey has predicted 120-132 seats for the INC and 60-72 seats for the BJP in the 2018 elections. The survey has also predicted that the INC may win 43% vote share, the BJP 32% and the JDS may win 17%.
Obviously, these survey results are not final and are indicative trends. It just helps us understand the current state of affairs and the overall mood of the people in the State.
It is a good idea to take the average of both the surveys to understand the trend and if we take the average of both the surveys, all we will get is a hung Assembly. Moreover, both the surveys also suggest that the JDS is losing ground.
It is too premature to start predicting the results of the Karnataka Assembly elections. The political parties have another seven-eight months to change the mind of the voters and influence them to vote for their candidates and party. As of now, one thing is clear that the ensuing Karnataka election will be won or lost by winning or losing the last-minute voters. This election will be won by the party, which influences them best.
(The author is a digital political evangelist and New Media expert)