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UP Election: Caste Matters – But Nowhere Near As Much As Believed


How is caste-voting reflected in the final election result?

New Delhi:

The default observation of many political commentators is that every vote in UP is determined by the caste of the voter; every victory or defeat is the consequence of cast combinations of parties and candidates. This is often taken to the extreme opinion that 90+% of Yadavs vote for the Samajwadi Party, 90+% of Brahmins vote for the BJP, 90+% of Dalits (Jatavs) vote for the BSP. 

Almost all opinion polls show that the upper limit of caste-based support is closer to 60% – and nowhere near 90%. There are several other issues – prices, unemployment, anti-incumbency, law and order – that turn a voter from their ‘caste-based-party’ to others.

How is caste-voting reflected in the final election result? An analysis of earlier UP election results shows that caste does matter – but perhaps nowhere near as overwhelmingly as is widely thought. The complex realignment of other castes in a confrontational election makes the 80%-90% alignment an over-simplification.

The data for each party’s vote in their caste-stronghold seats is an indication – not conclusive, though – that some re-thinking is needed on the view that only caste matters.

For example: in the constituencies with a high percentage of Muslim electorate, the BJP is widely thought to be at its weakest and the SP and Mayawati’s BSP at an advantage. However, the results of the last UP election show that in these Muslim seats, the BJP does well in some and the SP doesn’t do well in all. (Figure 1). There is a wide variation around the average vote in the state. 

Figure 1: In constituencies with a high Muslim population, contrary to conventional wisdom, the BJP does well in some constituencies and the SP and BSP vote varies significantly

Similarly, there is a widespread notion that parties sweep certain seats (for example, the BJP sweeps urban seats). The reality is that the maximum variation of any party in any category of seats is only 4-5 percent above or below the party’s overall average (see Figure 2).

Elections in seats of different characteristics don’t wholly swing one way or the other – often different sections of the electorate overcompensate and reduce the advantage that any single party may have.

Figure 2: How do different parties perform in constituencies of differing features: Seats which have a high percentage SC, upper caste, Yadav, Muslim, rural, urban voters

In a categorization of UP election (2017) data above – while there are clear advantages that parties have in some seats versus others – it is important to see these variations as within limits and not viewed as a 90% phenomenon.

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