New Delhi: Political campaigning is an integral, and perhaps, an indispensable part of Indian elections. As multi-phase elections become a norm of Indian polity, campaigning has come to play an even larger role in swaying the mood and electoral preference of voters.
The preponderance of campaigning in politics, can be gauged by the fact that in the 2014 National Election Studies post-poll survey, it was found that almost two out of every ten voters made up their minds on who to vote for during and on the basis of party's political campaigns.
So much so, that the Indian National Congress’ (INC) decline during the 2014 polls is very much evident by looking at how they fared during the nine phases.
The grand old party’s vote share recorded a steady fall from around 32 per cent, during the first phase to 8.09 per cent in the last phase during 2014 Lok Sabha polls. On the contrary, Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) vote share was around 40 per cent in phase one and 31 per cent in phase nine, a News18 data analysis of the 2014 elections shows. For this analysis, data has been taken from Lok Dhaba, Trivedi Centre for Political Data.
In 2014, BJP and the Congress’ average vote share differed by less than two per cent during the first two phases as most of the north eastern states went to polls. In phases three to five, the Congress vote share ranged from around 29 per cent to 31 per cent, while BJP’s vote share ranged from 36 per cent to 44 per cent—highest in all phases. Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh are a few states that held elections in this phase.
Post phase five, vote share of both parties fell, but it was the Congress party that witnessed a sharper fall from 30.8 per cent in phase five to 8.09 in phase nine—lowest in all phases. Here, the two out of three states that went to polls were Bihar and UP—both with a strong BJP presence. The saffron party managed to sweep both the states and won 22 and 71 seats in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, respectively—a total of 93 seats that shifted the momentum towards the BJP by the end of polls.
Looking at the state-wise breakdown, the average vote share of the Congress in UP was around nine per cent; 35 per cent in Madhya Pradesh; 32 per cent in Rajasthan; 34 per cent in Gujarat; and 37 per cent in Chhattisgarh. In the same states, the average BJP vote share ranged from 44 to 60 per cent.
It’s observed that Congress had the highest vote share of 39.7 per cent in phase two, where most constituencies with the exception of Arunachal West, have a larger Congress following than the BJP.
The national vote share of BJP was around 12 per cent more than that of Congress which had a vote share of 19.5 per cent in the 2014 general election.
Could this sharp decline in Congress’ vote share be a result of the anti-incumbency that had set in pre-2014 polls? Or was the BJP’s campaign machinery so strong that the Congress could do nothing but act as mere spectators, as BJP went on to create strongholds, state by state?
Last Minute Voters and Campaigns
In the 2014 pre-election National Election Studies conducted by the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), 32.2 per cent respondents said they would vote for the BJP, while 23.2 per cent said they would vote for Congress—the difference being three percentage points less than the actual national vote share difference (12%) of the two national parties.
Only about 11 per cent of the same group had said that they may change their decision on who to vote for. Their post-poll survey had almost the same per cent difference in respondents who voted for BJP and the Congress, as the difference in national vote share.
The 2014 post-election survey conducted by CSDS states that early deciders, that is, people who made up their mind about who to vote for even before campaign started, constitute 46.7 per cent of the respondents.
These early deciders “tend to be party loyalists with a high interest in politics,” said Rahul Verma, fellow at Centre for Policy Research (CPR). It’s likely that these voters had made up their minds much ahead of time and were unlikely to be influenced by campaigns.
This is where the dynamics of campaigning and the money a party spends acquires significance, yielding massive impact on elections. As Verma, stated, last minute voters often decide the fate of electoral outcomes in India.
Data analysis of the 2014 and 2009 Lok Sabha elections by Lokniti-CSDS states that one in every four voters decided whom to vote for within 48 hours of polling day.
According to Verma, late deciders tend to be of two types: First are the ‘smart voters’ who are educated, exposed to media and are male. Second, tilt to the winner. “These voters don’t usually have any information, aren’t well-informed, less educated, and live in rural areas and are mostly women,” he told News18.com.
“These late deciders come from all communities and backgrounds. Some belong to the category of those who wait for more information to help them make their decision; while others include those who are more strategic and want to be on the winning side,” Verma added.
Verma is also of an opinion that campaigns often decide how a party fares during elections, and given the money and energy that is spent towards them, a lot is at stake. He further explained that given the large number of late deciders in the country, “campaigns help in solidifying votes of early deciders and bringing late deciders in their favour.”
“In our elections, the margins between winning and losing are small. So, campaigning in constituencies help considerably in influencing votes,” he said.
Winnability is also an important factor, as 43 per cent of voters that participated in the 2014 survey voted for the party which was likely to win. This game of perception tends to affect late deciders more, as data from Lokniti-CSDS reveals, that over half of the late deciders voted for the party they thought is likely to win.
“In 2014, the BJP was ahead of Congress by eight percentage points among voters who had made their decision even before campaign started, but it almost doubled its lead among those who decided in the last 48 hours,” Verma stated in an article.
The Great Indian Election
In 2014, the BJP’s campaign left no stone unturned. Apart from traditional media (radio, television and print), the internet and social media played a huge role in impacting electorates. In this sense, 2019 is no different. In fact, the money spent on campaigning has grown manifold.
Political parties have already spent more than Rs.15 crore on Google and Facebook advertisements. According to a 2019 News18 analysis, eight political parties—BJP, INC, AIADMK, AITC, BJD, Shiv Sena, TDP, and TRS which won more than ten seats spent Rs 1,280 crore during 2014 Lok Sabha polls. Among them, BJP and Congress accounted for more than 90 per cent of the money spent.
In Google’s recently published Advertising Transparency Report, four political parties—BJP, YSR Congress (YSRCP), Telugu Desam Party (TDP) and Congress have advertised through Google in the run up to 2019 elections? The TDP secures the top spot in terms of expenditure (1.4 crore) followed by the BJP (1.21 crore), YSRCP (1.04 crore), and Congress (Rs 54,000).
And this is only the accounted money. According to Centre for Media Studies, a Delhi-based research organisation, the projected expenditure for 2019 election could be anywhere between Rs 50,000 to 60,000 crore. A large chunk of these expenses will be spent towards publicity including media advertisement, expenditure on publicity materials, and expenses incurred on public meetings, processions and rallies.
During the 2014 elections, BJP spent nearly Rs 463 crore on publicity, while the Congress spent Rs 346.41 crore—making this 71 per cent of their total party expenditure. Publicity, an important aspect of campaigning, accounts for only one-tenth of the total expenditure. The second largest expense of a party goes towards travel of campaigners.
In the paper,titled, “Does Media Exposure Affect Voting Behaviour and Political Preferences in India?” by Rahul Verma and Shreyas Sardesai, Lokniti-CSDS concluded that voters with higher media exposure were likely to vote for the BJP in 2014 elections.
The paper also states that the BJP booked 15,000 hoardings across India for up to three months and had bought the most prominent advertisement slots across national, regional and vernacular newspapers for about 40 days.
The extravagance and the mammoth nature of BJP campaigning notwithstanding, its effects are also deeply psychological, in the sense that even those who thought of TV channels to be biased towards Modi, were still willing to vote for the BJP.
In the pre-poll survey conducted by Lokniti-CSDS, voters were asked whether they thought news channels favour political leaders in their programmes. Close to 30 per cent agreed to this narrative, while 37 per cent didn’t think the news channels were biased, and around 35 per cent didn’t have an opinion.
In the words of Sanjay Kumar from CSDS, “When people choose a party, visibility becomes an important factor. If people don’t see a candidate which is likely to win the elections, they are not likely to vote for them.”