Modi vs Mamata: Surveys Show BJP in Single Digits in West Bengal
West Bengal is emerging as the main battlefield in the last phase of the Lok Sabha elections. The vandalism of Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar’s statue, allegedly by BJP cadres taking part in party president Amit Shah’s roadshow on Tuesday, 14 May, has given West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee exactly what she wanted: an opportunity to hit the streets and invoke Bengali nationalism against the BJP.
On their part, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Amit Shah continued their attack on Banerjee, with the latter holding a press conference targeting the West Bengal Chief Minister.
Polling has already been completed in 32 out of 42 Lok Sabha seats in West Bengal and 10 seats will vote in the final phase of polling on 19 May.
The BJP won only two seats in Bengal in 2014 and it is desperate to make an impact here to make up for the losses it is likely to face in Uttar Pradesh at the hands of the Mahagathbandhan.
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While few deny that BJP is making gains in Bengal in terms of vote share, it isn’t clear if that will translate into seats. Many say that the party may not be able to cross single digits. Let’s take a look at what some of the pre-poll surveys predicted for West Bengal.
There seems to be reasonable consensus that there is no major decline in the TMC’s vote share compared to the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, in which 39.8 percent of people voted for it. In the 2016 Assembly elections, it increased to 44.9 percent.
According to the CVoter’s tracker in March this year, the TMC could secure 41 percent of the vote, while the Lokniti-CSDS survey released just before the first phase of polling in April predicts that Banerjee’s party could get 39 percent of the vote.
While the TMC’s vote share seems stable, the real churn is in the anti-TMC space. In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the Left Front was the main Opposition with 30 percent of the vote, the BJP did reasonably well at 17 percent while the Congress got just 9.7 percent, mostly in its bastions in Central and North Bengal. In 2016 Assembly polls, the Left and Congress fought in alliance but the TMC swept the state, getting nearly 45 percent of the vote.
This time, the BJP appears to be gaining at the expense of the Left. CVoter predicts that BJP could get 35 percent of the vote, leaving the Left behind at 15 percent. The Congress, too, is predicted to face some losses, but at the hands of the TMC.
Lokniti-CSDS predicts a similar trend, but with slightly more limited gains for the BJP. According to it, the BJP could get 26 percent votes and the Left 19 percent, with the Congress retaining its 2014 vote share. The divergence between the two surveys is mainly on the the BJP’s gains at the Left’s expense. There’s reasonable unanimity on the TMC’s strength.
In terms of seats, in 2014, the TMC had won 34 seats, Congress 4 and Left and BJP two each.
Every Lok Sabha seat in Bengal has seven Assembly segments. If one adds the votes each party got in all the segments in each Lok Sabha seat in the 2016 Assembly elections, the TMC was ahead in 38 Lok Sabha seats and the Congress in 4.
The Congress’ higher seat-share despite a lower vote share is because its votes are concentrated in its places like Malda, Baharampur, Raiganj, Jangipur and Murshidabad. It has little presence elsewhere in the state.
CVoter, however, predicts that West Bengal could become a two-way race in 2019. According to it, TMC could win 34 seats and BJP 8.
Lokniti-CSDS, on the other hand, predicts the Congress holding its ground and Left declining less than the CVoter estimate. According to it, TMC could win 30-36 seats, BJP would be at 2-6 seats and the Congress could get 3-7 seats. In the chart, we have taken the mean instead of the ranges given by CSDS.
According to election data analyst Partha Das of Chanakyya.com, TMC could get 35 seats with a vote share of 41 percent, BJP could get 5 seats with a 30 percent vote share and Congress 2 seats with 6 percent votes. Das also lists 10 seats where the BJP has a chance of winning.
Despite acknowledging a rise in BJP’s vote share, hardly any psephologist is willing to predict BJP crossing single digits.
The only way the BJP can cross this is if the party gains more ground from CVoter’s vote share prediction of 35 percent in March.
Let’s look at another data point. According to the Lokniti-CSDS pre-poll survey, in Bengal, the Mamata Banerjee government has a better approval rating than the Modi government.
The survey says that the Modi government’s Net Satisfaction Rating in Bengal – that is the percentage of people satisfied with the government minus those who are dissatisfied – is at 14 percentage points. For the Mamata Banerjee government in the state, it is 22 percentage points.
Neither is a particularly high score. The Net Satisfaction with the Central government ranges from 73 percentage points in Odisha to -39 points in Kerala and Tamil Nadu. As far as state governments are concerned, the Net Satisfaction Rating ranges from 84 percentage points for the Naveen Patnaik government in Odisha to -41 points for the AIADMK government in Tamil Nadu.
On being asked whose performance will matter to them while voting, 38 percent in Bengal said that the Central government’s performance will matter more. 20 percent said that the performance of the state government will matter more while 17 percent said that both will influence their vote.
Based on these pre-poll surveys, we can make a number of observations:
- The TMC’s vote share is intact despite an mediocre satisfaction rating with the state government’s performance. This could largely be due to the personal popularity of Mamata Banerjee.
- Despite making significant gains, BJP may find it difficult to cross single digits in Bengal, mainly due to the resilience of the TMC. A lot would depend on the extent to which the BJP is able to grab the Left Front’s votes.
- BJP can also hope to do well in seats like Jhargram and Purulia, where there has been a significant decline in the TMC’s vote share as was evident in the Panchayat elections.
- Another set of seats where the party has an opportunity are Muslim-dominated seats like Raiganj where a three-way split in Muslim votes between Congress, TMC and Left Front could help the party.