Explaining the Congress party’s electoral defeat

Media punditry ignores the simplest explanation

The people of Punjab and Uttarakhand states voted out the Congress party. That is the objective fact. It is amusing to see the media provide definitive explanations for this.

When the Congress party loses, there is always the ‘anti-incumbency factor’ to blame. Voters, it says, didn’t vote out the Congress party per se or because of what it did while in government. They simply voted out the incumbent.

The anti-incumbency factor reared its head again to sweep Congress governments out of power in Punjab and Uttarakhand on Tuesday [DNA]

This time, there was another convenient factor

Rising prices of rice and wheat prompted Indian voters to oust Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s ruling Congress party in two state elections yesterday. [Bloomberg India]

How these conclusions could be made with so much certainty is anyone’s guess. What is most amazing is that few reports even consider the possibility that voters, apart from being merely cynical or inflation-sensitive, could have voted against the Congress party because they disliked its policies and performance.

13 thoughts on “Explaining the Congress party’s electoral defeat”

  1. Nitin, the other side of the coin is that there are alway accompanying reports of rift in the opposition ranks. Outlook already has reported factions in the state BJP units.

  2. The anti-incumbency factor is a discouraging phenomenon.

    Elementary game theory suggests as and when the vaunted anti-incumbency factor becomes an empirical ‘law’, worse it will be for governance in our country. What incentive now for our none-too-upright netas and babus to reform and perform if anti-incumbency is anyway going to wipe away their gaddi in the next election cycle? On the contrary, the incentive is to amass wealth and give out favors so as to wait out the empirically inevitable stint in the opposition.

    Broke my heart when strong and differentiated (from the biz-as-usual kangressi type) governments such as those of Atal and Chandra babu fell to the ‘anti-incumbency’ factor. Anti-incumbency for its own sake will spell bad news for administration and governance (bears repeating, yes).

    Why, oh why, doesn’t this anti-incumbency bug bite Bengal’s CPIM in the backside??!!

  3. Sudhir,

    Atal and Chandra babu poll prospects were related. Chandra babu was in power for 10 years – performance mattered the first time for him. After a decade, people forget how corrupt Congress I was and there is also a fatigue factor with current regime. And because Chandra babu didn’t win (along with few other state allies), Atal’s NDA didn’t. It has little to do with anti-incumbency. The same is probably true of the latest states elections. Despite what the media says, policies and performance matter.

  4. Chandra,

    Tks for responding. Imay’ve been a tad too hyperbolic in my earlier post. Here’re some dots that we could agree on about how to connect.

    1. Some very bad governments overstayed in office by getting voted back more than once. (E.g., Laloo ruled Bihar for a full 15 dark yrs, Subhash Ghising is running beautiful Darjeeling into the ground for almost 20 yrs now). The CPIM in Bengal is the poster boy in this regard.

    2. Some very good governments have been rewarded by being voted back to office more than twice (e.g., Sheila Dikshith in Delhi, Pawan Chamling in Sikkim, perhaps Naveen patnaik in Orissa). I certainly hope Modi gets a string mandate in Gujrat.

    4. When the general level of governance improves somewhat fortuitiously, it is difficult to go back to the earlier rock-bottom level. E.g., YSR in AP isn’t as bad these days as I’d feared. It would’ve been very noticeble after Naidu’s stellar performance. But then again, K’taka’s choices after SM Krishna disprove this rule.

    3. Coalition governments and thin majorities are bad news for reform and performance at least at the state level because no bold move happens and the status que continues to bleed away opportunities. UP, Goa and Maharashtra are good examples.

    What else? Smaller states are better from the governance angle.

  5. Chandra, why go as far as a lost ally. TN is the one that broke NDA’s fortunes I’d say. I mean you have a party (DMK) sharing power with NDA for 6 years and moving to the opposite camp on the day of elections, taking with it about 40 seats. Where was anti-incumbency then? Take those 40 from the UPA bag and add to NDA’s tally, we will be blogging about something else.

  6. The South India China Post (aka The Hindu) is hard to beat at obfuscation (dissembling, Congress flattery, and Commie bootlicking, knavery etc) has already started spinning, here’s the edit ; and here’s the whimp Harsh Khare whining as usual . N.Ram must be thrilled with PC’s ‘dream budget 2007’ for now dog chow is cheaper. Ram for those of you who don’t know is known to have spent as much on his pet pomeranians (about 25 of them) in a month as entire villages in India spend on food every year.

  7. Well,I am neither a ‘psephologist’ nor claim to be ‘political pundit’,yet atrocious enough to question the ‘psephologist’s explaining the anti incumbency factor.
    In the ‘event’ of anti incumbency the vote percentage,of ruling’ party should go down.Isn’t it the logical conclusion? Then how did Congress’s vote percentage has gone up in both Punjab and Utranchal? To my ‘biased and prejudiced’ mind,it can be explained that ‘others’ votes were split either in favor of Congress or in favor of SAD & BJP PRE POLL alliance.
    Nitin,right you are here,”What is most amazing is that few reports even consider the possibility that voters, apart from being merely cynical or inflation-sensitive, could have voted against the Congress party because they disliked its policies and performance.”

  8. Sriram, I thought it was George and BJP guys who went after Amma for 2004. I don’t know much of the details but I didn’t realize DMK switched sides.

    AP got rid of the corrupt old dogs – at least side lined some of them. Hope TN does too soon.

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