OBC Voters, Biggest Challenge for UPA

The results from the Assembly elections are in, the NDA did not perform as well as expected and in fact struggled in Haryana. A variety of hypotheses are being offered to explain the NDA underperformance. But let us remember that this NDA underperformance in State elections is not new

  • Delhi 2015
  • Bihar 2015
  • Goa 2017
  • Gujarat 2017
  • Karnataka 2017
  • MP 2018
  • Rajasthan 2018
  • Chhattisgarh 2018
  • Haryana 2019

Predict Now: Will Arvind Kejriwal return as CM of Delhi?

There is enough data to show that the Modi Factor is the biggest reason for the NDA advantage in the Lok Sabha elections and his absence on the ballot in the Assembly elections is a big factor in the NDA underperformance. The main argument being made is that the Modi Factor is because he is a better leader than Rahul Gandhi (The leadership gap illustrates this point). Before we explore our hypothesis about OBC voters, let us look at how data moves between Lok Sabha and Assembly elections

Chhattisgarh: Congress won 43.9% of the vote in 2018. Contrary to what many think, its vote did not collapse in 2019 Lok Sabha election. They won 40.9% of the vote. But BJP’s vote share went up from 33.6% to close to 50%

Rajasthan: Congress won 39.8% of the vote in 2018. BJP won 39.3%. Congress had a negative swing of 5% in the Lok Sabha election. But BJP’s vote share went up a massive 20% points

Haryana: Congress won 28.5% of the vote in 2019 Lok Sabha. BJP won 58.2%. Congress vote share did not change at all in Assembly election 2019. But BJP’s vote share crashed by a massive 22% points

Maharashtra: NCP+Congress won 32% of the vote in 2019 Lok Sabha. BJP+SHS won 51.3%. NCP+Congress vote share changed by about 1% in Assembly election 2019. But BJP+SHS vote share crashed by a massive 9% points

The pattern is clear, the Congress vote share is not elastic. But the NDA vote share is elastic and so is the 3rd party and Independent votes (Others if we can call them).

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In the State elections, voters are regularly voting for ‘Others’ but not so in the National elections and interestingly almost all of of them are voting only for the NDA in the National election (or so it appears). The hypothesis is that the anti-congress vote is consolidating behind the BJP during the Lok Sabha election but returning to the smaller parties during the Assembly elections.

Let us now look at Caste-wise vote data for Maharashtra and Haryana

Lok Sabha vs Assembly, BJP vs Congress

Dalit Voters


BJP (-) 28%

Congress (+) 12%

Congress gains half of BJP Losses


NDA (+) 1%

UPA (+) 7%

UPA gains much more than NDA

OBC Voters


BJP (-) 28%

Congress (+) 9%

Congress gains third of BJP Losses


NDA (-) 15%

UPA (+) 0%

UPA gets nothing from the NDA losses

In both Maharashtra and Haryana, the trend is clear. The UPA vote share is quite sensitive to Dalit voters. What I mean is that during the state elections, Dalit voters are happy to vote the Congress by shifting from the BJP but amongst OBC voters, they appear to be more open to voting for ‘Others’ rather than the Congress.

Both the data sets above certainly shows that Modi is a big factor for all voters (Dalit or OBC). But it also shows that Modi or no Modi, OBCs won’t shift to congress.

Don’t forget that Nationally, NDA leads the UPA by a massive 40% points amongst OBC voters. Its overall gap is much lesser at 18%.

These kinds of leads extend in most States where NDA and UPA compete head on. With OBCs (particularly lower OBCs) making up for 30% of the voters, Gaps of 40% translate into 12% vote share (The gap between NDA and UPA was about 18% nationally).

It is not to say that the UPA does not have issues with the smaller segment size of upper caste voters (about 15 to 20%). There too, the UPA gains nothing from NDA losses. However, these voters are also more likely to be loyal to NDA than OBC voters. It appears that OBC voter loyalty is clearly much more dependent on Mr. Modi than Upper caste voters

A bigger lesson from all of this data is that inspite of diminishing numbers of poor voters, Congress continues to focus on Poverty. NYAY being one such example. It also struggles from a good representation of leaders from across all voting segments in the country. Most of India today is perhaps middle class or lower middle class. The BJP has done a better job (at least during Lok Sabha elections) of reaching out to all these voters with a connectable proposition. The Congress on the other hand is narrowly focused on poor voters who don’t make up for more than 20 to 30% of the voters. A case of VERY narrow targeting.

Caste wise voting data is from AxismyIndia

Subhash Chandra

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