The 2013 Karnataka elections are not characterized by significant shifts in voter preferences. The one exception to this statewide electoral pattern is the divergence in the preferences of rural and urban voters.
While the Congress has gained significant vote share or seats in urban constituencies , it did not fare as well in rural areas. The BJP lost more vote share in urban constituencies (except in Bangalore) than rural constituencies and its breakaway factions (KJP + BSRC) failed to compensate for its loss in urban vote share. The JD(S) significantly gained more vote share in urban constituencies than rural constituencies , belying its image as a party that represents rural interests. These divergent patterns deserve careful analysis in the run-up to the Lok Sabha elections in 2014.
Of the 44 constituencies that overlap with eight city corporations , 28 are in Bangalore city and the remaining 16 are in Belgaum, Gulbarga, Bellary, Hubli-Dharwad , Davanagere, Mysore and Mangalore. In 2008, the BJP polled 42% votes (Table 1) in these urban constituencies and bagged 28 seats. In 2013, the party lost heavily in all big cities, except Bangalore, where it won 12 of the 28 seats. This is five less than its 2008 seat tally and 9.24% loss in vote share (41.55% in 2008 to 32.21% in 2013). However, this is a modest loss compared to 18.32% votes (from 44.32% to 26%) in the 16 other urban constituencies (Table 2) and around 14% in rural and semi-urban constituencies. So while the BJP may console itself that it has to some extent retained the preferences of Bangalore voters, it certainly lost votes in other urban constituencies.
Contrary to the claim that the Congress lost the urban voter base it had secured in the Lok Sabha elections in 2009, it made a significant vote share gain of 3.42% in Karnataka’s urban constituencies, compared to a modest 1.37% in rural and semi-urban constituencies. So if there is a positive shift in the vote for the Congress in 2013, it is from Karnataka’s urban constituencies. Notably, this Congress resurgence does not extend to Bangalore , where the Congress gain of 2.41% is dwarfed by the JD(S) gain of 4.40% of vote share. For the JD(S), this is in line with the party’s impressive performance in urban Karnataka: from one win out of 44 and 13.51% votes in urban constituencies in 2008, to four seats and 17.21% vote share. This 4% growth in vote share in urban constituencies, compared with a meagre 0.58% growth in semi-urban and rural constituencies suggests a potential transformation in the JD(S) voter base.
These urban voting trends are consistent with the March 2013 Urban Local Body elections where the BJP’s losses decreased with the size of the ULB, whereas the Congress and JD(S) gained in larger ULBs. In other words, urban voters in Karnataka have given the Congress a significant mandate to reform urban government. If the Congress is serious about consolidating these gains ahead of the Lok Sabha elections in 2014, it must act decisively , guided by core principles of institutional design and aggressive intent to deliver.
This article was originally published in the Times of India on May 30th, 2013.