Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Kerala Assembly Elections, 2016: Mapping the Gains and Losses

R. Ramakumar

I was just playing around with some data from the Kerala assembly elections, 2016.

Of course, the LDF won the elections with a huge margin. It won 91 seats in the 140-member assembly as against the UDF, which won 47 seats. The BJP-led NDA, for the first time in history, opened its account with a single seat win in Nemom. One seat - Poonjar - went to an independent.

At the 2014 Parliament elections, the UDF had a vote share of 42 per cent, as against the LDF's vote share of 40.1 per cent and the BJP's vote share of 10.8 per cent. However, the situation had changed significantly in 2016: the LDF's vote share in 2016 had risen to 43.4 per cent. The UDF vote share fell sharply to 38.8 per cent and the NDA's (the BJP had an alliance with the Vellappally Natesan-led party BDJS) vote share rose moderately to 15 per cent.

There is an old debate among psephologists of Kerala: if the BJP's vote share increases, who will lose out? LDF or UDF? Increasingly, it appears that a BJP-led front with a 15-20 per cent vote share in Kerala will significantly harm the prospects of the Congress party and the UDF.

There is a historical class/caste-based pattern of voting in Kerala. Let me use caste-based voting patterns as a pointer here, as more detailed data are available here than on class-based voting patterns. More than 70 per cent of the Dalits and more than 60 per cent of the Ezhavas - both with significant sections of working class sections within - always voted for the LDF in Kerala. This was true even in 2009, which was LDF's worst election year. Between 2004 and 2009, the major reason why the UDF scored over the LDF was that a section of Nairs and Muslims, who had voted en masse for the LDF in 2004, moved away and voted for the UDF in 2009. The decline in the share of Nairs who voted for the LDF was from 42% in 2004 to 27% in 2009. Similarly, the decline in the share of Muslims who voted for the LDF was from 41% in 2004 to 26% in 2009 (see Table below, which uses CSDS post-poll data).

In 2011, contrary to the wisdom of alternating regimes dished out by Delhi-based pundits on TV, the LDF had almost won; it almost reversed the trend of alternating fronts in power. In what was a closely fought election, the LDF won in 68 seats while the UDF won in 72 seats. A feature of this 2011 election was that in the Left's great fightback, a section of Nair and Muslim votes lost to the UDF in 2009 returned to the LDF.

Now, this is where doubts originated. If these Nair votes went to the BJP, would the Left lose like in 2009, thus benefiting the UDF?

There is another point worth noting here. Between 2009 and 2014, when the Left improved its Lok Sabha tally in Kerala from 4/20 to 8/20, again, the share of Nairs voting LDF rose from 27% to 34% (see Table below). In all these polls, remember, the share of Christians and Muslims voting for the UDF remained stable at around 60 to 70 per cent.

The lessons one could draw historically are, thus, the following: the largest section of Muslims and Christians voted for the UDF. The largest section of Ezhavas and Dalits voted for the LDF. The way Nair votes turned often decided who would win between the UDF and the LDF. Also, whenever the LDF won elections, it did not just win a section of Nair votes, but also a section of Muslim votes, particularly outside Malappuram district, the citadel of the Indian Union Muslim League (a constituent of the UDF alliance).

Oommen Chandy's crooked political brain worked precisely on these lines. He assumed that if the Christians and Muslims predominantly voted UDF, and if the movement of Nair votes to the LDF could be diverted to the BJP, the UDF could benefit. If the BJP could be encouraged to be in alliance with Vellappally Natesan's SNDP (re-christened as the BDJS party), a section of Ezhava votes would also move to the BJP, leaving the LDF totally devastated. Basically, Chandy was trying to expand up on the 2009 experience.

CSDS post-poll survey results for 2016, released today in the Indian Express, show that Chandy's plan was a monumental failure. These results show that:

a) About 50 per cent of the Ezhavas continue to vote for the LDF in Kerala. This represents a minor decline from the corresponding vote shares during earlier elections, but still shows that the LDF continues to command considerable clout amongst the Ezhava community. The BJP's alliance with the BDJS helped the NDA to increase increase the vote share among Ezhavas from 12 per cent in 2014 to 18 per cent in 2016. However, it is notable that this share did not rise above the 18% vote share among Ezhavas, which the BJP had won in 2004 without the BDJS.

Vote shares of the LDF, UDF and BJP within the major caste/religious groups in Kerala elections, 2004, 2009, 2011, 2014 and 2016, CSDS post-poll data

b) More than half of the Dalits also continued to vote for the LDF. Surprisingly, the vote share of LDF amongst Dalits appears to have drastically fallen between 2014 and 2016, with the benefits flowing to the NDA. This appears an anomaly given the other facts we have at hand.

c) CSDS has, for the first time, also released vote share of fronts among Adivasis. A huge majority of Adivasis (71 per cent) voted for the LDF in 2016.

d) The vote share of the LDF amongst Nairs increased sharply from 34 per cent in 2014 to 45 per cent in 2016. While the vote share of the UDF among Nairs fell from 33 per cent to 20 per cent, the NDA recorded a rise in vote share from 27 per cent in 2014 to 34 per cent in 2016. in other words, Oommen Chandy's plan of diverting Nair votes to the BJP did not work at all; fed up of the Chandy ministry's corruption and misrule, the largest section among them chose the secular LDF to the communal NDA. Psephologists at the NDTV had, towards the closing days of the polls, using historical data, pointed to a similar conclusion: that the UDF to BJP swing is larger than the LDF to BJP swing (see video snapshot below).

e) As it happens whenever LDF wins big, a section of Muslims also shifted votes to the LDF. The LDF's vote share among Muslims rose from 21 per cent in 2014 to 35 per cent in 2016. Given the rise of communalism across India, this section of Muslims chose the LDF as the most reliable partner in the struggle against divisive politics.

f) Even a section of Christians, who predominantly vote for the UDF, shifted votes to the LDF. A very small section of richer Christians may have also shifted votes to the BJP in 2016. The loser, in any case, was the UDF.

Has Chandy's communal antics left the LDF stronger than ever in Kerala? If the trends are to be trusted, this may actually be happening. The vote of 2016 can, safely, then be characterised as not just a verdict against the UDF but also a verdict for the LDF: for clean and non-corrupt governance as well as to act as a vanguard in the struggle against religious fundamentalism.

Some interesting patterns emerged while I was playing around with the polling figures. Let me try to discuss them below. I made a few interactive maps of the constituencies using BatchGeo, which sources from googlemaps. Please click on the pin-drops of constituencies for more detailed results. Please also feel free to switch between the Satellite view and the Map view at the top right corner. You can also zoom in and out using the (+) and (-) buttons at the top left corner to ease viewing dense clusters.

1) Given the clear wave against the UDF that was visible in these elections, some seats were won with huge majority by the LDF. Which were the seats that the LDF had won polling more than 50 per cent of the votes polled? These seats are not just clustered around Kannur, but also in the Travancore region, particularly Kollam district. See map at:


2) The UDF too won in a fewer number of seats with more than 50 per cent of the votes polled, but most of these were won by the Muslim League in its bastion: the Malappuram district in north Kerala. A handful of seats in central Travancore were also won by the UDF with more than 50 per cent votes. See map at:


3) There was no seat where the NDA won more than 50 per cent of the votes. I tried to see which were the seats in which the NDA had won more than 20 per cent of the votes. Apart from two seats in the northern-most district of Kasargode, most of these seats were in either central or southern Travancore. In the map, there are two colours with which the constituencies are marked: saffron, for seats contested by the BJP; and yellow, for seats contested by the ally BDJS. About half of the seats in which the NDA scored above 20 per cent of the votes were contested by the BDJS, which clearly shows their sway, even if minor, among Ezhava voters. In the State as a whole, the NDA's vote share of 15 per cent was divided between the BJP (10.8 per cent) and the BDJS (4.6 per cent). See map at:


4) Compared to the Parliament elections of 2014, the LDF had put up a strong show in many constituencies to win them back. I looked at which were the seats in which the vote share of the LDF increased by 10 percentage points or more between 2014 and 2016. Data show that most of these seats where the LDF displayed extremely impressive comebacks were in the Kollam and Thiruvananthapuram districts. In addition, the LDF vote shares also increased commendably in the Malappuram district. See map at:


5) Let us examine the gains of the NDA more closely. If we compare 2014 and 2016, the NDA increased its vote share by more than 10 percentage points in a number of constituencies spread across south and central Travancore. In many of these cases, the NDA candidates were BDJS representatives. The "BDJS factor", thus, was strong and the NDA benefited significantly from the alliance. See map at:


6) At the same time, the NDA also recorded a fall of vote shares in many constituencies. Most of these were contested by the BJP itself, and were also clustered around the Thiruvananthapuram district. These were also the constituencies were the LDF staged a major comeback, pulling back votes from the NDA and the UDF. See map at:


In a large number of constituencies, the NDA recorded a fall in the absolute number of votes compared to 2014. These constituencies were in the Thiruvananthapuram, Malappuram, Palakkad and Kasargode districts. See map at:


7) The NDA also ensured that its vote share exceeded that of the UDF and the LDF in a handful of constituencies. 

There were three constituencies where the NDA's vote share was higher than the UDF's vote share. See map at:


There were another five constituencies where the NDA's vote share was higher than the LDF's vote share. See map at:


8) Due to the NDA's vote shares exceeding that of the LDF and the UDF in some constituencies, both the LDF and the UDF came third in some constituencies.

The LDF came third behind the UDF and the BJP in four constituencies, and the victor was a UDF candidate in all these constituencies. See map at:


The UDF came third in three constituencies; two of these were won by the LDF and one by the NDA. In this particular, and the only, seat won by the NDA (Nemom), there have been serious allegations that the UDF transferred votes to the NDA candidate to facilitate victory. See map at:


9) A final set of data is on the following question: when the NDA obtained a higher vote share, who lost the vote share the most? Of course, it was the UDF. For this purpose, I tried a simple method.

Between 2014 and 2016, which were the constituencies in which the NDA recorded a rise in vote share by 5 percentage points or more AND in which the UDF recorded a fall in vote share by 10 percentage points or more? It turns out there were many such constituencies, mostly contested by the BJP and not the BDJS. These were largely in southern Travancore. See map at:


Between 2014 and 2016, which were the constituencies in which the NDA recorded a rise in vote share by 5 percentage points or more AND in which the LDF recorded a fall in vote share by 10 percentage points or more? It turns out these constituencies were just a few. In fact, just four: Palakkad, Udumbanchola, Idukki and Thodupuzha. If one asks the question - which were the seats in which the BDJS/BJP combine sharply ate into the LDF votes of 2014? - these are the four seats. See map at:


Apart from these four seats, the other seats where the BDJS/BJP combine mildly ate into the LDF votes of 2014 were: Nedumangad, Kaduthuruthy, Kattakkada, Kuttanad, Haripad, Varkala and Malampuzha.

Will post more maps in the coming days, but comments welcome!