Yashwant Deshmukh: Don’t jump to conclusions from low voter turnout

In an exclusive interview with The Squirrels’ Bhupendra Chaubey, psephologist Yashwant Deshmukh says that poor voter attendance in the first three phases of the Lok Sabha elections of 2024 can mean a whole lot of things

Pratik Sharma
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exclusive interview with The Squirrels’ Bhupendra Chaubey, psephologist Yashwant Deshmukh says...

exclusive interview with The Squirrels’ Bhupendra Chaubey, psephologist Yashwant Deshmukh says...

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Psephology is challenging when the voter turnout is low, psephologist Yashwant Deshmukh told The Squirrel, adding that it was necessary to find out which section of which side voted in fewer numbers than they did five or 10 years ago. That, he said, was not easy to figure out.

Speaking to Bhupendra Chaubey, Deshmukh said psephologists were scared to meet the same fate as in 2004. To recall, in the run-up to that general election, all newspapers and magazines of the time expected an easy victory for the Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led NDA. In reality, the incumbent fell far short of the majority, letting a post-poll alliance led by the Congress form the UPA government that lasted 10 years.

Yashwant Deshmukh rejects correlation

When the contest is good, the turnout is good too, Deshmukh said, reasoning that while the BJP’s voters may be complacent, the opposition's voters may be dejected as nobody is giving them a fighting chance. Wherever the result appears a foregone conclusion, the voter turnout drops, he opined.

The ‘Modi’ factor does not explain the turnout across states, the well-known psephologist said, with examples like Kerala where the CPM faces anti-incumbency, but the party does not matter pan-India, which weighs in on the voter’s mind in an LS poll. Gujarat is another state, Deshmukh said, where the contest was lopsided.

Then, putting the Lok Saba elections of the recent past together with the ongoing polls, Deshmukh said the scenario of 2024 was neither anti-incumbent like 2014 nor pro-incumbent like 2019.

West Bengal sees high turnouts because every seat is contested fiercely, the psephologist said.

A peculiar situation has emerged in Maharashtra where every party has betrayed the people's mandate, according to Deshmukh. The voter orientation stands wrecked, thanks to frequently changing alliances. Why a BJP voter would be excited about voting for Ajit Pawar or why a Balasaheb Thackeray loyalist would vote for the Congress beats the psephologist. “Maharashtra is in complete chaos,” he said.

A substantial section of voters is not candid, which makes predicting election results a tough challenge, he said. In West Bengal, for example, people are scared to speak.

The Uttar Pradesh (UP) voter is indifferent this time, as Mayawati is merely trying to survive this election — according to Deshmukh. In 2019, BSP benefited from the transfer of SP votes but vice versa did not happen, he observed. During the last UP assembly election, the contest was bipolar, BJP vs SP, which excites Akhilesh Yadav who thinks the LS poll trend will be a repeat of the VS poll trend, the psephologist said.

Keeping in view it's a national election, anti-BJP voters might explore Congress in some pockets, the guest at The Squirrels said.

Mayawati not upping her game would mean ‘Advantage BJP’, Deshmukh said, adding that it was easy to figure out whom the Muslim-Yadav combination would affect (the BSP, of course).

There are states where the results are prone to a wave, but there are others where there is a serious contest, he said. The battleground is where the election has been divided into several phases.

No pattern in India's electoral history establishes a correlation between turnouts and results, the psephologist said authoritatively. The drop in voter turnout has been reducing with the passing phases of the LS elections of 2024. The drop in voter turnout would impact the BJP and the opposition equally, he said.

The summer heat may deter voters hereon, Deshmukh forecast, but added that a drop in the turnout up to a 4-5% drop was not worrisome in his job. A drop of 18% in the urban centres in 2004 made predicting the elections a tough job, he reasoned.

There is no urban-rural divide or BJP-opposition divide in the low voter turnout, the psephologist noted. Deshmukh concluded by saying this Lok Sabha election cannot be predicted based on the turnout seen so far.

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