For the best experience, open
on your mobile browser or Download our App.

Are First-Time Voters the ‘X Factor’ in BJP’s Victories?

These voters comprise between 10-15% of the total electorate, perhaps more than most castes or religious denominations.
Representative image of first time voters in Madhya Pradesh. Photo: X/@ecisveep

It’s not unusual to do a post-mortem after a massacre, and so the forensics have begun after the electoral carnage of December 3. The hindsight morticians, of all hues, have started their analysis of what went wrong with the opposition carcasses littering the battlefield in five states: EVMs, caste, Hindutva, panauti barbs, tribal voters, in-fighting, corruption, electoral bonds – it’s an endless list which shall keep the pundits occupied till it’s time for the next bloodletting in May next year. Not one to be discouraged by my lack of expertise in this field, however, I would like to add my two bits to the autopsy.

Not much attention has been paid so far to the impact of the behaviour or preferences of the first-time voter (FTV) on electoral outcomes since 2019. This is surprising given their increasing numbers. According to available figures, there were 80 million (8 crore) FTVs in 2019, and the estimates for 2024 are 150 million, or 15 crore. That is an almost two-fold increase between the two elections. Even if we discount the 2024 estimates by 25%, FTVs will form a sizeable proportion of total voters.

FTVs comprise between 10-15% of the total electorate, perhaps more than most castes or religious denominations. They constitute a separate and distinct cohort, with their own problems, aspirations, preferences and mental make-up. You would expect that all major political parties would be aware of this and that they would cater to them specifically in their manifestos, as they do for all other electorally significant blocs. Especially as available data shows that FTVs have a significant influence and impact on election results.

A 2014 analysis by IndiaSpend concluded that this youthful segment had catapulted the BJP to power in the five states with the highest proportion of young voters. Below is a table indicating the five states which had added the most FTVs between 2014 and 2018, and the number of Lok Sabha seats in each:

State First-time voters added (in lakhs)
Lok Sabha seats
Bihar 61.33 40
West Bengal 55.02 42
Rajasthan 43.45 25
Maharashtra 41.7 48
Uttar Pradesh 39.74 80
Total 241.26 235

It is significant to note that this accounts for about 43% of the total seats in the Lok Sabha.

Consider now another set of statistics. In the just concluded elections to five states (where the BJP won three by sizeable margins), the vote share of the BJP has actually increased substantially over the 2018 figures: Rajasthan by 3.69%, Madhya Pradesh by 7.66%, and Chattisgarh by 13.37%; even in Telangana (which it lost), its vote share has gone up by 9%. This is a psephological puzzle because the general consensus is that Modi’s brand equity is no longer as strong as it was in 2018-19, that the appeal of Hindutva has peaked, and that economic issues such as price rise and unemployment have begun to bite. What then is the generic explanation for the party’s phenomenal rise in vote share in 2023?

There is a distinct possibility that the answer could lie in the hitherto ignored FTV. An interesting article in the New Indian Expressed, ‘The Seven Sins of New India‘ by K. Jayakumar, published on November 25, postulates that the young generation of today (read FTV), “with no exposure to an earlier ethos of public life, begins to believe that what it sees today is normal.” And what this generation sees today is listed by Jayakumar as the “seven sins of new India.” These are: Inequality before the law, vindictive vehemence, intolerance to criticism, corruption, doublespeak, window dressing, and the baggage of secularism. These seven sins comprise the new normal and have changed the idiom of public life and polity completely.

I find this a fascinating thesis, one which makes eminent sense. Just step back and consider: the FTV of today was only eight years old in 2014, and thirteen in 2019. These are impressionable ages, the crucible when values, behaviour, beliefs and prejudices are formed. This generation has grown up in the Modi years and has seen nothing but the seven deadly sins in operation, carpet-bombed by media and party propaganda to believe in this right-wing ideology and that Modi is the Vishwaguru. They are creatures of this new toxic environment, and their value systems can only align with this new reality, having experienced no other one. I, for one, therefore would be very surprised if they did not vote for the BJP in elections, almost as a bloc. This thesis brings together all the anecdotal data and statistics mentioned above, and may go some way in explaining the BJP’s continued appeal and the increase in its vote share. The FTV may not be the only explanation but it certainly merits a serious look. And the beauty of this phenomenon is that with each incremental year of this regime, their numbers will keep increasing by a few millions, providing the BJP with an ever-increasing constituency of programmed supporters. There can be no worse news for the opposition.

I may be wrong (I usually am in such matters), but can the opposition continue to ignore the FTV? They may be their ticket to ride.

This article was originally published on the author’s blog, View from [Greater] Kailash. It has been edited lightly for style.

Make a contribution to Independent Journalism
facebook twitter