The city’s voter turnout, which hit an all-time low of 41.6% in 1991, had till 2009 remained in the forties for all Lok Sabha elections except one – in 1998, when it touched 50.4%. It hit a newer low, in fact, in 2009 with 41.4% turnout, but the 2014 Lok Sabha polls saw the voting percentage jump to 51.6%. This year’s figures are remarkable, therefore, as they show a nearly 14 percentage point spike in turnout in a decade and a 3.5 percentage point rise since the ‘Modi wave’ election.
The city turned up to vote in much larger numbers despite the sweltering heat and long weekend, which had triggered concerns that many would choose to holiday instead. The rise in poll percentage is, however, measured against a slightly smaller voter base. The number of voters in Mumbai has reduced by 2.54 lakh since 2014. The 2019 voter turnout is the second-highest in 30 years. In 1989, the city had recorded a turnout of 57.7%. This was the final phase of polling in the state. The average polling percentage in the state is 60.7%, slightly higher than 60.3% in 2014.
Why was there a spike in Mumbai’s turnout? The election saw a sharply polarised campaign, which may have drawn out voters across religious and ethnic communities, observers say. All six Mumbai seats are currently held by BJP-Sena. The saffron alliance feels the spike reflects a continuation of the Modi factor in Mumbai and BJP’s grip on urban constituencies. The highstakes poll has also drawn out their core cadre-based voters, they say.
But the opposition sees in the spike a vote for change. It says larger numbers of Dalit and minority voters came out to exercise their franchise because of a growing feeling of insecurity in the Modi regime. The role of social media campaigns also aided turnout, especially by motivating first-time voters, says Ajit Ranade from the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR). “Usually, first-time voters record low turnout, but social media campaigns seem to have changed that.” He said the jump in turnout was much higher between 2009 and 2014, aided by the EC’s voter awareness campaigns.
Social media campaigns have also made it look “uncool” to not vote, especially campaigns in which people display their inked fingers on social media. The Mumbai North constituency saw the highest voter turnout in the city at 59.3%. It also saw the highest rise in turnout since 2014, a spike of 6.2 percentage points. The constituency is seeing a contest between sitting MP, BJP’s Gopal Shetty, and actress Urmila Matondkar (Congress). The constituency has a large number of Marathi voters, followed by Gujaratis and North Indians. It also has Muslim voters.