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Congress reclaiming voters from AAP a big reason for Punjab election victory

LiveMint logoLiveMint 12-03-2017 Tadit Kundu

One of the surprises of the just concluded elections has been the resounding victory of the Congress party in Punjab. While the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD)-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) combine was expected to face a strong anti-incumbency, pre-poll surveys and trends from the 2014 parliamentary elections seemed to point to a close fight between the Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). In the end, the Congress trounced its opponents comfortably.

A close look at the seats won by the Congress party suggests that the Congress victory in the state is due in large measure to its ability to win back voters who had deserted it in the 2014 elections to back AAP. Punjab was one of the few states in India where the newly-formed AAP performed reasonably well in the 2014 general elections. It won four out of the thirteen Lok Sabha seats from Punjab, with the Congress grabbing three and the SAD-BJP combine winning the remaining six.

Data suggests that AAP’s success in 2014 was account of weaning away the Congress voter rather than the SAD-BJP voter. In the assembly constituency segments where AAP’s vote share exceeded 30% in 2014, three out of four times it was the Congress which lost most vote share, rather than the SAD-BJP combine. This time, had the electorate voted in the same way as in 2014, AAP should have won 33 seats out of 117. However, of the 33 assembly segments that AAP dominated in 2014, the Congress won 20 this time.The SAD-BJP combine took away another two seats from AAP, while AAP gained nine seats elsewhere, allowing the new party to end with a tally of 20.

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The ability of the Congress to wrest 20 seats from AAP’s Lok Sabha kitty eventually turned out to be the game-changer. Moreover, it was precisely in these hitherto AAP-dominated areas that Congress gained the most in terms of vote-share as well, suggesting that traditional Congress-voters who had turned to AAP in 2014 had returned to it in this assembly election. The disaggregated vote share data above reveals what overall state-wise results otherwise hide. AAP’s aggregate vote share remained largely stable at around 24%, when compared to its 2014 performance. But, as the above chart shows, the reason behind the apparently stable vote share of AAP is the fact that its losses to Congress were somewhat compensated by the gains it made in hitherto SAD-BJP dominated regions.

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Meanwhile, the transformation of the largely bi-polar Punjab elections into a triangular contest means that the election arithmetic has been completely changed. The 38.5% vote share of the Congress in this election is actually lower than its 40.1% share in assembly elections five years ago, when AAP was not in the picture. Despite the dip in vote share, the seat tally has jumped from 46 in 2012 to 77 in 2017, allowing it to secure a comfortable majority.

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