Women voters and transfer of votes, the two decisive factors in Lok Sabha polls 2024

If women voters can tilt the scales in states like Karnataka and Andhra, it is effective vote transfer that matters in Bihar, Maharashtra.

ByAnusha Ravi Sood

Published Jun 01, 2024 | 10:15 AM Updated Jun 01, 2024 | 10:15 AM

Sixth phase of Lok Sabha elections

With the seventh and last phase of polling for the Lok Sabha election 2024 set to conclude on Saturday, pollsters, political analysts, and TV channels are rearing to publish exit polls.

When the Election Commission of India announces the final results of the Lok Sabha election 2024 on 4 June, everything else—speculations, analysis, predictions—will be redundant. The factors that led to the outcome will be all the buzz.

Other than personalities and their popularity swaying voters, you often hear of waves in favour of or against a party, person, or issue dominating the analysis. However, in this Lok Sabha election, two independent factors may become decisive—women voters and the transfer of votes.

Data from ECI for the first six phases shows that women’s voter turnout has reached new heights in this election. In several states, more women than men have voted. Phase 6 of polling saw women’s voter turnout at 64.95 percent, while male voter turnout was just 61.95 percent. In all six polling phases, women voters outnumbered male voters.

Also read: Women come out in large numbers in Karnataka

Women voters and electoral outcomes

If it is the free food grains under Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana (PMGKAY) that is perhaps motivating women to land at the polling booths in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, it is the targeted welfare schemes that put more money in their hands that is driving them to vote in large numbers in Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh.

Women standing in long queues at Indian post offices, eager to open payment accounts anticipating deposits of ₹8,400 if the INDIA bloc comes to power, indicate the influence of  Congress Guarantees in Karnataka.

In the sixth phase of polling, women’s voter turnout in Uttar Pradesh was nearly six percent higher than males, similar to Bihar’s women’s voter turnout in phase two. Other than the first phase of polling, women voters have consistently outnumbered male voters in Bihar. The numbers alone don’t reveal who women voters preferred, but trends in recently concluded elections suggest a pattern.

If how women voted in Karnataka and Telangana assembly elections is anything to go by, it clearly indicates an aware, decisive voter aiming for tangible benefits that directly impact household management. Whether in BJP-ruled Assam or Uttar Pradesh, the ‘beneficiaries’ of welfare schemes have changed the party’s fortunes.

If the BJP is keen on its free ration scheme to yield results or Congress is confident of its guarantees — both delivered and promised — to turn its fortunes around, the crux of those calculations is women voters.

Take Andhra Pradesh, for example. Despite anti-incumbency, Jagan Mohan Reddy’s YSRCP is pinning its hopes on women voters to come to its rescue as it takes on a BJP-TDP-JSP combine. In most assembly seats in Andhra Pradesh, women voters have outnumbered male voters, and the YSRCP sees this as a good sign.

An independent woman voter making an electoral choice, keeping tangible factors in mind, is seen as breaking away from caste, community, and religious allegiance.

Also read: How an alliance shapes up for winning election

Transfer of votes and the key it holds

Several pollsters and analysts have noted the crucial role women voters may play in the outcome of the Lok Sabha elections 2024, seldom considering the importance of effective vote transfer.

Lok Sabha elections 2024 is like none other before. While coalition governments aren’t new to India, regional parties with strong presence have often chosen to hold their own, making the contest a three-cornered one.

This time around, all key political players have picked their sides except for a couple of regional parties. The BJP-led NDA and the Opposition’s INDIA blocs have effectively made the Lok Sabha elections 2024 a bipolar contest in most states. The exceptions are Tamil Nadu, Telangana, Odisha, and Andhra Pradesh, where at least one key regional party has chosen not to side with the NDA or INDIA.

After a decade in power, the BJP — which has lost key allies like AIADMK and SAD — is more dependent on its other alliance partners to offset the loss in vote share it may face in states where its popularity has reached saturation. Unlike in Telangana, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal, where the BJP hopes to make in-roads at the cost of other parties — BRS, AIADMK, and Congress, respectively — in Bihar, the BJP has consistently lost vote share since the 2014 Lok Sabha polls and is dependent on JD(U) to retain seats.

Andhra Pradesh is perhaps the shining example of how the results entirely depend on whether vote transfers between alliance partners have been successful. Incumbent YSRCP polled 49.89 percent of the votes in 2019. A non-entity in Andhra Pradesh, BJP polled 0.26 percent of the votes in 2019. It is in alliance with TDP, which polled 40.19 percent, and JSP, which polled 5.8 percent.

The only way the alliance can beat YSRCP is if it can facilitate the unquestionable transfer of votes from allies to common candidates. Apart from hoping the Congress, helmed by YS Sharmila, weans away at least two to three percent of YSRCP’s vote share, post-poll assessment by parties shows that while vote transfer between TDP, JSP, and BJP has been satisfactory in coastal Andhra districts, it has fallen woefully short in the Rayalaseema region.

In the Hindi heartland states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, etc., a split in non-BJP votes between a splintered opposition has been a boon for the saffron party. For this reason, BJP emerged as the highest seat-holding party, with 303 in 2019, but got only 37.7 percent of the total votes cast. The largest chunk of votes was split between a divided opposition.

With a vote share of 49.9 percent, the BJP won 62 seats in Uttar Pradesh in 2019. Samajwadi Party won just five seats with an 18 percent vote share, while the BSP, with a 19.43 percent vote share, won 10 seats. The Congress is looking at a shift of SC voters from BSP to it; an effective vote transfer means a sure shot increase in the number of seats.

Also read: Turning point in history

Strategy to avoid splitting votes

In this election, a united opposition, strategically contesting in some states and against each other in others, has attempted to stop the split of anti-BJP votes, minimising the possibilities of  “vote cutters”. The move is, however, only impactful if alliance partners ensure the transfer of votes. The Uddhav Thackeray faction of Shiv Sena and Sharad Pawar-led NCP have led by example in goading supporters to transfer their votes to common candidates.

The BJP is deploying the same efforts with Shinde’s and Ajit Pawar’s factions of the Maharashtra parties. While JD(U)’s shift from INDIA to NDA right before elections upset the Opposition’s calculations in Bihar, both BJP and RJD are pushing to consolidate vote share from allies to convert unified vote share into seat count.

Unlike in Telangana, where both national parties—Congress and BJP—are vying to eat into the vote share of a regional party, BRS, essentially reducing it to a distant third, in states like Karnataka and West Bengal, where the contest is bipolar, the fight has been fierce—as the turnout numbers show—to bring core voters to the polling station.

Beyond caste, community, and popularity equations, the contest for more seats than anticipated may be influenced by these two factors: effective vote transfer and women voters.