United Voters of India: The Logic of Collective Action (Part 6)

The Math

Let us start by considering the numbers that can make UVI work. Consider a constituency with 100 eligible voters. About 65 of them vote. The winner typically gets about 30 votes, the runner-up will get about 20-25, and the rest of the 10-15 goes to the smaller parties or Independent candidates. Of the winner’s 30 voters, about 20 form the core while the other 10 come from the floaters who make up their mind very late on who to vote for.

In other words, a committed core of 20 which creates the perception of victory can attract another 10 to create a winning coalition that can rule the entire 100. Crafting this ‘selectorate’ is what smart politicians know and do in India’s first-past-the-post system.

They play that game, and so should we. Let us understand the ‘we’. Out of the 100 voters, about a third constitute the core of various existing political parties. Another third are non-aligned – they comprise floaters and wasters. Floaters are those who will swing towards the party likely to win, while wasters are those who will vote for one of the smaller parties or independents who have no hope of winning. The last third comprises the non-voters – those who are whatever reason do not vote.

UVI can operate at three levels. If it can garner the support of 10 of the 67 NANVs (non-aligned and non-voters), it can in effect swing the election. With a support base of 20, it can get to a runner-up position. And if it can get to 30, it stands a very good chance of winning. (Remember that the core base of the winning candidate is just 20.)

What we are saying is this:

• If UVI can persuade 1 in 10 to join it, this bloc can make someone win or lose. Demands made by UVI can put pressure on existing political parties and create competition between them.
• If UVI can get to 2 in 10, it could put up its own candidate who could probably end up as the runner-up, depending on the level of fragmentation of vote
• If UVI can get to 3 in 10, it can put up its own candidate who will have a very strong likelihood of emerging victorious

Let us start with the lowest number: 1 in 10. That’s the tipping point for UVI to succeed. Because most victory margins in elections tend to be in the 5-10% range, this 10% voting bloc can tilt the scale in many seats and perhaps the entire election. Think of this as the “marginal revolution” in Indian electoral politics.

Tomorrow: Part 7