A historic election day

Today, on 17 Apr 2014, 121 constituencies are going for elections.This is the day on which the largest number of constituencies are voting. Last election, by votes, these constituencies polled over 9.4 crore votes. Given electoral growth and increased turnouts, it seems safe to say more than 10 crore votes (100 million) will be cast on the same day for the first time in our history.

Election Schedule


Today, all 28 of Karnataka’s constituencies are voting. Most of Rajasthan’s (20 of 28) constituencies are voting too. The rest of the 121 constituencies are split across a 10 other states. In terms of number of states covered, this is a pretty large election as well – second only to last week’s 10th April elections where 14 states were covered.

State-wise breakup

Last year, BJP won in 44 of the 121 constituencies polling today, followed by the Congress, which won in 37.

2009 Results Map

Karnataka was swept by BJP, whereas Congress had the clear majority in Rajasthan. The table below shows the results for these 121 constituencies by State and Party. The cells coloured in green indicate the party that won the largest number of seats in that constituency.

2009 Results Partywise

The closest of these elections last year were Davangene, Karnataka where Siddeswara of BJP won by just 2,024 votes (0.2% margin) against S S Mallikarjuna of Congress; and Buxar, Bihar, where Jagada Nand Singh of RJD won against Lal Muni Choubey of BJP by 2,238 votes (0.4%).

On the other hand, at Baramati, Maharashtra, Supriya Sule of NCP easily won against Kanta Jaysing Nalawade of BJP with over 3.4 lakh votes – a 46% margin of victory. At Madha, Maharashtra, Sharad Pawar of NCP won against Subhash Deshmukh of BJP with over 3 lakh votes – a 34% margin.

Several other prominent figures such as Devegowda, Jaswant singh, Madhavrao Scindia, Shatrughan Sinha, Yashwant Sinha, etc contested and won elections in these constituencies.

Whatever be the result, please do go out and vote on this historic day when 10 crore citizens exercise their franchise.

Vote splitting

What happens if a constituency has a large number of candidates? Do the votes get split, with the winner winning with a lower margin?

For example, if there are several hundreds of candidates like at Nalgonda or Belgaum in 1996, do the winners tend to win with relatively low margins? Is the CPI’s 9% margin at Nalgonda or JD’s 11% margin at Belgaum relatively low?

2004-winnersLet’s consider the 2004 elections. Here is a plot – each dot in one constituency, showing the winner’s margins against the number of candidates. It also has a blue line through the middle showing the best straight line that fits the data.

What we find is that when there are more candidates, the margin for the winner actually increases slightly, rather than reducing. It’s almost as if the increased number of candidates confuses the voters and drives them towards the leading or strongest candidate. In any case, the winner’s margin is certainly unaffected by an increase in number of candidates.

2004-runnerBut what about the other candidates? Do the runner-ups see their margins declining? That is, does the difference between the 2nd and 3rd candidate shrink as the number of candidates increase?From the graph alongside, the answer is a resounding yes. The runner-up margin takes a big hit when there are more candidates.

So at least in 2004, increasing the number of candidates was a good strategy for the party that has a strong candidate.

What about for other years? In 2009, the pattern is similar. The winner margin dipped mildly with increase in number of candidates. The runner-up margin dipped dramatically with an increase in margin.


In fact, in a number of elections, this pattern was stronger, for example in 1977, 1984 and 1989.


However, in the 1980 elections, the number of candidates impacted the winner and runner-up margins equally. The 1951 and 1957 elections showed a similar characteristic.


In recent times, an increase in number of candidates appears to favour stronger candidates. It may, in fact, be a viable leading party strategy to introduce more candidates into the elections to split the votes of the runner-up, ensuring a stronger win.

Trends in Lok Sabha elections

A lot has changed in the 60+ years since our first elections. To begin with, the number of voters has gone up almost consistently, year on year – which is to be expected given population growth. However,.in 1991 there is a notable dip in the number of voters, despite a growth in population. The voter turnout dropped from 62% in 1989 to 57% in 1991 (mospi.nic.in, PDF).


The number of candidates, however, shows a different trend. Between 1977 to 1996, there was a marked, even exponential growth in the number of candidates, leading to almost 14,000 candidates contesting in 1996 – approximately 26 candidates in each constituency, partly due to the deluge of candidates in Belgaum and Nalgonda. Post 1996, the election commission revised the deposit amount from Rs 500 to Rs 25,000, and the numbers dropped to a more reasonable 9 candidates per constituency, though in 2009, this has again risen to 15 candidates. Perhaps, given inflation, it may be time for the ECI to increase the deposit amount again.

Candidates per constituency

Among these candidates, the percentage of women has generally shown a steady increase, especially starting from 1991. (The ECI data for 1951 does not have gender data.) It’s grown from about 3% to nearly 7% now – but is still a relatively low number.

Women candidates

With the growth in number of candidates, one might expect that the winner’s share of votes might decline. Here’s what the distribution of the winner’s vote share looks like.

Winner share

The highest was P L Handoo of NC who won at Anantnag in 1989 with over 36,000 votes. The nearest competitor, Abdul Rashid Khan, got 186 votes. On the other hand, P K Khanna of INC won at Shahjahanpur in 1967 with 40,000 votes out of 2.4 lakh votes – less than 17% of the electorate!

Given the winner-take-all nature of nature of the Indian elections, the winning party need not have a majority of the seats. Below is the % of seats the winning party has won.

Winner seatshare

Since 1989, the winning party has never received 50% of the number of seats, and in every occasion, has been forced to form a coalition with another party.

In contrast, if we look at the winning party’s vote share (the number of votes they received as a % of total voters), the trend is not as bad. The numbers have been only slightly under 50%, and always above 40%, since 1989. In fact, the situation was worse in 1951 and 1957, when the Congress was in power with a less than 40% vote share.Winner voteshare

Let’s take a look at both of these together, and see how representative and powerful the various Indian governments have been.

Voteshare Seatshare

We can almost cleanly segregate the elections into three phases:

Voteshare Seatshare Q1In the first phase, between 1951 – 1967, the seat share was over 50%, indicating that the winning party (Congress, in this case) had the power to pass legislation.

However, the voteshare was less than 50%, i.e. more than half the population had voted for a party other than Congress, and in that sense, the Government was not fully representative of the voters.

Voteshare Seatshare Q2The second phase, between 1971 – 1984 was both powerful and representative. The seat share was over 50%, giving the government power to legislate. The vote share was also over 50%, i.e. more than half the voters had voted for the single largest party.

In this phase, except for 1977 when Janata Party was in power, the Congress was in power across the years.

Voteshare Seatshare Q3In this third and current phase of the elections, the winning party is generally neither representative nor powerful.

In every year, the seat share has been under 50%, meaning that the winning party cannot form the Government alone; and, except in 1989, the winning party has received less than 50% of the public vote.

All the above data was sourced from the Election Commission website. You can explore the data visually at https://gramener.com/election/parliament.