How did BJP remain far from majority? Voters changed sides in Lok Sabha elections, understand from these figures

Ananya Shroff
7 Min Read

Author: Atanu Biswas
It is said that democracy is like a roti on a pan. Voters must constantly turn it to prevent it from burning. But does this mean that voters elect a new government every five years? No, not at all. But we see 'flip-flops' every time a government changes or its strength increases or decreases through the electoral process. Even if there is no actual change in the party in power and its strength, 'flip-flops' in some form or the other is a constant process in democracy. In 2024, the number of seats BJP has in the country is 63 less than in 2019, while the number of seats of Congress has increased by 47. But is this the whole story? In fact, this time, compared to 2019, an MP from another party has been elected on about 209 out of 543 seats, which is 38.4 percent of the total seats.

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keep moving

If 4 out of 10 MPs are elected from a different party than the previous election, isn’t that a change? But this happens in almost every election. For example, the BJP won only 21 more seats in 2019 than in 2014 and the Congress won only 8 seats. Still, it is important to note that 187 constituencies, or 34.4 per cent of the Lok Sabha seats, elected MPs from a different party in 2019 than in 2014. For example, the number of seats held by Bengal’s current ruling party, the TMC, in 2021 remained largely unchanged from the last election, as the BJP completely replaced the Left and the Congress as the opposition in the state. However, real poribortan (change) went much further than this. Of the total 292 constituencies, 129, or 44 per cent, saw winners from a different party than in 2016.

Similarly, when the DMK-led coalition returned to power in Tamil Nadu in 2021, there was a change in 111 of the 234 assembly seats, or 47.4 per cent. The winners in 2021 were from different parties compared to 2016.

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The proportion of people changing their voting choices is difficult to measure. The BJP's vote share declined by only 0.8 per cent in 2024, while the Congress's overall share increased by only 1.8 per cent. The SP's vote share increased by 2 per cent. Perhaps a fraction of a percentage point in the vote share of the majority of other parties shifted in the other direction. Of course, adding them would mean that, at most, 10-12 per cent of the country's voters changed their voting choice.

Understanding the situation

If you add up the percentage of vote shifts for each political party in each state, you will get a large number of shifting votes. If you repeat the same process for each constituency, the number will go up further. Further, if the data from all the EVMs in the country is combined with the results of previous elections, a lower limit of the percentage of votes shifted can be found. However, this will only be a 'lower limit' because there are countless instances in which one voter moved from party A to party B, another voter moved from party B to party C. Similarly a third voter moved from party C to party A, leaving the total number unchanged. Further, some old voters drop out and some new voters join the democratic process. Thus, the dynamics are also affected.

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keep moving

The percentage of floating voters must be quite significant. Also, how did the vote share of the Congress fall from 28.5 per cent in 2009 to around 19 per cent in 2014? In this regard, Bengal is a prime example. The Left Front won an incredible 37 per cent of the votes in 2006 and maintained a stunning 30 per cent share even after Mamata Banerjee defeated them in 2011. But, by 2021, the Left's percentage has fallen to less than 5 per cent, and in 2024 it is 5.67 per cent. Therefore, one estimate is that more than 50 per cent – possibly 60 per cent – of all voters are floating voters, meaning they are open to changing their voting preferences. In fact, a 2014 CSDS study also concluded that 43 per cent of Indian voters go with the 'wind'.

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Global Impact

What about other countries? According to Linda Killian's 2012 book The Swing Vote: The Untapped Power of Independents, the largest voting block of the US electorate is independents with 40%. These voters occupy a wide range of political and ideological space and have influenced the outcome of every election since World War II. And their numbers are growing. According to the British Election Study, British voters are also 'floating'. In the three elections between 2010 and 2017, 49% of UK voters did not vote for the same party. However, 43% of voters switched parties between 2010 and 2015. It makes sense that the actual percentage of floating voters would be higher because a floating voter did not necessarily support another party. Political parties are fully aware of this. If not, who would they target in their election campaigns? Therefore, the bread of democracy must be constantly stoked. The higher the flame, the more often it needs to be tended. All this is to prevent burning. The wind can be felt, or it can be wonderful. But change always blows in the wind of democracy.
(The author is Professor at the Indian Statistical Institute, Kolkata)

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