Alliance Arithmetic in Tamil Nadu

Political alliances are a necessity in a multi-party FPTP system. But they come in a variety of shades. For instance the Left front can be treated as monolithic despite them having several constituent parties. But there are certain other alliances that are less cohesive and hence the voters’ stickiness or lack of it with a party as opposed to a coalition makes contests even more interesting. Tamil Nadu, with a largely bipolar polity and a host of smaller parties, offers one such experiment.

In 2004, it was a wave that washed out ADMK. The average margin of victory then in Tamil Nadu’s 39 constituencies was 162,533. So it’s not reasonable to consider it for our analyses which hopes to estimate relative strengths of parties. However, the 2009 Lok Sabha Elections in Tamil Nadu were very close to a real contest with an obvious skew towards the winner. So, let’s consider these results.

The table below considers all 39 contests and then provides a head to head tally for individual contests[1]. For instance, the first row with ADMK v DMK gives

  • The average margin of victory for all ADMK v DMK contests in the column named thus, regardless of who won
      • The next column gives the average margin of victory in ADMK victories against DMK
      • The final column gives the average margin of loss for ADMK’s losses against DMK
      • This repeats for other contests as we traverse and go down the rows
 

Average Margin of Victory

across all Contests

Average Margin of Victory

Average Margin of Loss

ADMK V DMK

63812

39472

77721

ADMK V INC

36527

43257

30567

ADMK V VCK

2797

2797

NA

DMK V Left

69367

69367

NA

DMK V MDMK

93904

93904

NA

DMK V PMK

105536

105536

NA

DMK V BJP

65687

65687

NA

INC V Left

36671

NA

36671

INC V MDMK

32550

15764

49336

VCK V PMK

99083

99083

NA

The average margin of victory for the ADMK against the DMK, as it can be expected, is 50.7% lower than for a DMK victory against the ADMK. But notice how the margin gap between wins and losses for the ADMK dramatically falls/reverses when it contested against the DMK’s junior allies instead of the DMK itself. In fact, the ADMK’s average margin of victory is higher than its average margin of defeat against the INC. There were a reasonable number of contests between the ADMK and the INC in 2009 and thus these averages are not a one-off contests.

The DMK, strengthening our hypothesis, did not lose even a single seat to a junior alliance partner from the opposition camp. Significantly, its average margin of victory against the then most important junior alliance partner of ADMK — the PMK — was 105,536. That’s 35.7% higher than its average margin of victory against the ADMK. This extends to the next most important junior ally – the MDMK — as well[2].

In short, whenever the larger Dravidian party was in a direct contest with a junior alliance partner of the opposing camp, it performed better compared to the average of that election. Now consider the cases where the junior alliance partners on either side contested against each other. There were only 5 such contests. In 4 such contests, the margins were much tighter for the winner and these 4 were split evenly between either camp[3].

That brings us to the simple question of: what happens when the DMK and ADMK don’t ally with these smaller parties? The argument often laid out in favour of such parties is that their votes are concentrated and hence they deliver their own constituencies. The PMK which is most often cited thus, as we just saw above, performed the worst. Its average margin of defeat in areas where its votes are supposedly concentrated were much higher than the election norm.

The entry of DMDK as an alliance parter, one could argue, alters things. The DMDK in 2009 Lok Sabha Elections and in the 2006 Assembly elections did not enter into an alliance. The party did not finish second even in one of the 39 contests discussed above. However, it’s estimated that this party too has pockets of strength. But in the State Assembly Elections of 2011, the DMDK did enter into an alliance with the AIADMK. Just as the PMK’s performance was worse than the norm in 2009 defeat, the DMDK’s 2011 performance was also worse than the norm; except in 2011, that was in a winning camp and thus being worse than the norm still meant a few victorious seats.

A reasonable hypothesis therefore is: when faced with a choice between a Dravidian Party and others, the Tamil citizen has a bias towards any one of the two major Dravidian parties even when it happens to not be the preferred one state-wide for that cycle. In such a scenario, in a week’s time, the Tamil Citizen is mostly going to have both major Dravidian parties on the ballot along with a third choice. If this history is any indicator, the NDA alliance has an unpleasant contest on its hands.

 

[1] – The original data was from the EC though I’ve calculated and tabulated it differently.

[2] – We can ignore both the VCK and the BJP in this list given they were both significant in just 1 contest each.

[3] – The fifth was a contest between VCK and PMK and the subtext of Dalit assertion against Vanniyars in a constituency where over 32% of the population belong to the Parayar community — a Dalit caste.