Kerala's voter turnout patterns: Past elections shed light on potential outcomes

A look at how the polling percentage could hint which way the pendulum is set to swing.
Image of voters used for representational purposes.
Image of voters used for representational purposes. Express

KOCHI: With just four days to go for the general polls in Kerala, all three political fronts will be focusing on a critical factor: voter turnout.

Although each front claims that a high turnout would favour them, an analysis of Lok Sabha elections in the state shows that high polling percentages – hovering around 80 per cent – have usually benefited the UDF.

In 2019, the state registered a voter turnout of 77.67 per cent, and the Congress-led UDF won 19 of the 20 seats.

Kerala saw such high turnouts in the post-Emergency elections of 1977 (79.2 per cent) and 1989 (79.03 per cent), both of which favoured the Congress.

In the 1984 elections, held shortly after the assassination of former prime minister Indira Gandhi, the state recorded a voter turnout of 77.13 per cent. The Congress won 17 seats.

Interestingly, in 1977, Congress was in alliance with CPI, Kerala Congress, and the Muslim League. The Congress-led front secured 17 seats in the state even as the rest of India punished the party for imposing Emergency.

In 2004 Lok Sabha elections, the voter turnout in Kerala was just 71.43 per cent. The CPM-led LDF won 18 seats, leaving the UDF and NDA with one seat each.

In 1996, the voter turnout was 71.13 per cent. The LDF won 10 seats, a relatively strong performance. In 1999, the Left won 9 seats with only 70.19 percent turnout.

According to political observers, voter turnout goes up when there is heavy anti-incumbency sentiment. Some of them highlighted that a spike in voter tunout was earlier considered beneficial to the UDF because its vote base was fluid, unlike the LDF’s rigid cadre-based ‘sure votes’. It was assumed that a rise in polling percentage meant a rise in non-Left votes.

That’s not always the case, argued D Dhanuraj, founder-chairman of the Kochi-based think tank Centre for Public Policy Research. “This general theory has been disproved in several assembly elections,” he said.

“The 2019 Lok Sabha polls turnout to what was recorded during the 2016 assembly election (77.5 per cent), which the LDF had won in a convincing manner. Nevertheless, there is a possibility that anti-incumbency drives turnout up.”

According to political observers, the Sabarimala issue and the candidacy of then Congress president Rahul Gandhi in Wayanad boosted the high turnout of voters in 2019, up by nearly 4 per cent from the 73.6% in 2014.

It was the second highest polling rate in three decades, after 79.03% in 1989. Interestingly, north Kerala districts registered higher turnouts than central and southern regions of the state.

The highest polling was recorded in Kannur (83.21%) where Congress leader K Sudhakaran contested against CPM sitting MP P K Sreemathi and won by a margin of 94,559 votes.

Wayanad, which was in the spotlight after Rahul’s candidature, saw its highest polling ever at 80.31 per cent since the constituency was formed in 2009. Notably, eight of Kerala’s 20 Lok Sabha constituencies recorded more than 80 per cent polling for the first time in history.

The lowest polling in 2019 was recorded in Thiruvananthapuram (73.66 per cent), followed by Pathanamthitta (74.24 per cent), Attingal (74.4 per cent), and Kollam (74.66 per cent).

“In 2019, there was a feeling that the Congress would return to power at the Centre. Hence, the majority of Muslim votes went to the UDF,” said political observer N M Pearson.

“However, the current political landscape is different. The perceived anti-incumbency sentiment against the state government might not largely affect the Left. Rather, the anti-incumbency votes against the Centre could shift to the CPM. Thus, there might not be an-LDF wave this time.”

Pearson also noted that Kerala rarely saw intense competitions during Lok Sabha elections. “This time, too, one can’t say there is a heated contest,” he said.

“Therefore, there is a possibility of a drop in voter turnout when compared with 2019. Only a few constituencies – such as Thrissur, Vadakara, and Thiruvananthapuram – are witnessing fierce contests.”

Related Stories

No stories found.

The New Indian Express