Election Outcome: Likely Scenario

Even as exit poll projections revise their estimates of outcome in Tamil Nadu, I depend on my understanding of the state’s voting behaviour in the past. As this is one state which can decide who can form the Government, let us look at it closely. In fact, the revised estimates have surprised a columnist sympathetic the BJP to the extent that he has now conceded that Manmohan Singh forming the Govt. is now a certainty (Management of expectations). According to the revised estimates of CNN-IBN and NDTV exit polls, the DMK-Congress combine is likely to sweep the polls.

I have been interested in the voting behaviour of voters in different States. One aspect of this interest has been to find out why the voters in Tamil Nadu have always given a decisive verdict in favour of one party or combination or the other. One consequence of this trend has been a single party government in the State, even as they voted one of the regional parties to power. When it comes to the Lok Sabha election, however, the party or alliance which is allied to a national party likely to form the Government at the Centre has been the beneficiary of the mandate in the State.

Let us look at the past trends. In 1998, the BJP and the AIADMK had an electoral understanding and swept the polls. In 1999, AIADMK’s withdrawal of support, bringing down the Government at the Centre did not go down well with the TN voters. The BJP-DMK alliance swept the polls in 1999. Despite many grounds for withdrawal of support, the DMK kept the support going till 2004, and it is only on the eve of the Lok Sabha elections, the party switched sides, and had an alliance with the Congress. Although the DMK switched alliances, it did not destabilise the Government at the Centre. The DMK-Congress alliance was rewarded with a decisive mandate. The BJP and AIADMK had an alliance in 2004, but the voters did not rightly think that the BJP was in a position to form the Government at the Centre, and even if it was, it did not choose a reliable partner, considering what she did in 1999. Analysts overestimate the arithmetic factor in Tamil Nadu, by suggesting that whoever has a bigger alliance, in terms of number of partners, is likely to sweep the polls. But this is a very limited understanding, and simplistic because it does not explain whether the voters are aware that they are voting in a Lok Sabha election. My alternative thesis explains this rather satisfactorily.

In 2009, the AIADMK did not have the slight advantage it had in 2004, when it aligned with the BJP. Instead it aligned with the Left and the smaller parties, who according to the TN voters, are unlikely to form the Government on their own at the Centre. Therefore, the exit poll projections in TN, contrary to what the opinion polls said, are reliable. Many analysts have said this election had no national issues or that each State voted on State issues. Even as I don’t agree with this analysis at the all-India level, at least in TN,the voters have always been distinguishing between state assembly and Lok Sabha elections. Well, this is my tentative analysis. I will stand revised, and probably look for alternative answers if I am proved wrong tomorrow.

UPDATE: With the trends available (4 p.m.May 16), I don’t see the need to revise my analysis of why the TN voters voted the way they did. Even if it is not a sweep, it is an overwhelming mandate in favour of the Congress-DMK alliance. In the comments section, Srinivasan Ramani rightly suggests that the DMDK’s inroads might have made a sweep impossible. AIADMK aligned only with the BJP in 2004, and the TN voters correctly did not see the combination capable of forming a stable Government at the Centre. One can discern one more factor. Ever since Jayalalithaa destabilised a Government at the Centre (in 1999), the AIADMK-led alliance has not received a favourable mandate in the Lok Sabha elections. As the TN voters favour stability at the Centre, they appear reluctant to give a mandate to the AIADMK in the Lok Sabha elections, even if they are willing to let AIADMK to return to power in the State.

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  • VV,

    I am not sure if this is indeed as simple as you make it out to be. First of all, the trend for victories has been attributed more to the “conglomeration of alliances” rather than allying with the national party alone. If I remember correctly, the AIADMK was in alliance, not just with the BJP but also with other smaller parties in the state (PMK, MDMK, JP, TRC then). In 1999, the shift of the PMK and MDMK brought votes to the other alliance (this time the BJP, the DMK, the MDMK and the PMK). Later in the 2001 elections, the front forged by AIADMK along with virtually the entire set of small parties except for the BJP which was in the DMK led front. And the AIADMK swept the polls then. Only for this to reverse, cometh 2004 (Lok Sabha), as the both the fronts switched parties again, with the BJP now supporting the AIADMK and all other smaller parties part of the DMK led front, resulting in a greater vote share for the DMK led front.

    Again there has been a switch in 2006 in the assembly elections, but what added intrigue was the presence of the DMDK, complicated things making the DMK only the single largest party with the Congress supporting from outside. The presence of the DMDK has meant that the switch of the smaller parties to either front comes with a lesser transfer of vote share to the core votes of the big parties (AIADMK or the DMK). That could explain a smaller transfer of votes (or swing) this time around and the possibility of a sweep is not going to be there in the direction of the “larger” front as has been before except for the 2006 Assembly elections.

    In essence, I don’t quite agree with the conclusions of a sweep in the favour of the DMK+. Even if voters have been swayed by the Sri Lankan incidents, the vote should have been the other way around – to the AIADMK led front as the CPI, the PMK and the MDMK were the biggest mobilisers on the issue and the Congress was seen to be inactive vis-a-vis the issue. So, there is a contradiction in the CNN-IBN’s findings, I presume, which explicitly mentions a pro-LTTE position across the state (I doubt if it is indeed a pro-LTTE position in itself- its more likely a pro-Sri Lankan Tamil position).

    Anwyays, there are merely 7 more hours and I could have egg on my face. I am sticking my neck out and still predicting a 24-15 margin in favour of the AIADMK+. Lets see.

  • You cant generalise like that.In 1996 the voters rejected Congress+ADMK alliance over DMK+TMC alliance.TMC was just born then. In 1998 BJP joined hands with ADMK,MDMK and PMK and that alliance gave a tough fight to
    DMK led alliance. In 1999 DMK and
    BJP formed alliance, while ADMK joined hands with Congress.In 1979
    DMK+Congress alliance swept the
    lok sabha polls leaving just 2 to
    ADMK+janata party alliance.MGR was
    shocked by that verdict.
    Congress cannot win not even five lok sabha seats on its own in Tamil Nadu. Sans alliance congress will be the loser in tamil nadu.
    I think ADMK+Congress alliance has performed better over the years if one exclude 2004. Getting 40/40 was a rare victory that could not
    be repeated so easily. This time it is 28 and 12.

  • Dear Ravi,
    If you analyse the results carefully, TN voters always voted a combination which was likely to form Govt. at the Centre. Well, one could call it a fluke or voters being prescient. The fact remains that they give the mandate to a combination likely to form the Government at the Centre. In 1996, the DMK-TMC combine ultimately formed the Govt.after the collapse of 13-day BJP govt. Ditto for 1998, 1999, 2004 and 2009. In 1996, it appeared to the voters, that DMK-TMC combine, in the absence of an alliance with the BJP, (which was an alternative national party to the Congress which was on the decline)was a potent force likely to provide a stable Govt. at the Centre. That it collapsed within two years because of withdrawal of support by the Congress, made the voters choose another national party, that is BJP, and its likely friends in 1998.