Lok Sabha Elections: Why Surveys May Be Overestimating Modi & BJP

If Narendra Modi’s NDA continues to decline at the rate predicted by surveys, it could fall to less than 200 seats

Updated
Politics
7 min read
Two recent surveys have predicted that the BJP-led NDA may fall short of a majority in the Lok Sabha elections. 
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Two recent surveys – one by ABP News and C-Voter and the other by India Today and Karvy – have come up with very similar predictions for the upcoming Lok Sabha elections. Both surveys predict that the Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) could end up 35-40 seats short of a majority. However, there’s a fair chance that the NDA could perform even worse than that. But before we get to that, let’s look at the predictions.

According to C-Voter, the NDA is predicted to win 233 seats and the Congress-led UPA 167, with other parties getting 143 seats. Karvy's prediction is similar: 237 for NDA, 166 for UPA and 140 for others.

Lok Sabha Elections: Why Surveys May Be Overestimating Modi & BJP

While the big picture given by the two surveys is similar, there are some divergences.

The first major difference is vote share. While C-Voter puts the vote share gap between the NDA and UPA at 5.4 percent, Karvy puts it at just 2 percent.

Curiously, despite a narrower vote share gap, Karvy gives NDA more seats than C-Voter.

The second difference can be seen if we look at the predictions in the different regions. While C-Voter released its predictions state-wise, India Today-Karvy went region-wise. For the sake of comparison, we will look at the predictions region-wise since India Today-Karvy didn’t specify the predictions for every state.

In the North, C-Voter gives four more seats to the NDA and 10 more seats to the UPA compared to Karvy. On the other hand, Karvy gives "Others" 14 more seats compared to C-Voter. A difference of 7 seats is coming from Uttar Pradesh. Here Karvy's prediction is 58 seats to the Mahagathbandhan and 18 to NDA, C-Voter puts it at 51 and 25 respectively. Both give four seats to the Congress.

The other difference comes from the fact that C-Voter considers Jammu and Kashmir National Conference as part of the UPA while India Today treats it as part of others.

The other major divergence is from the South, where Karvy gives 10 more seats to the NDA and six more seats to the UPA and 16 less seats to others compared to C-Voter.

In the East, the predictions of the two surveys differ by a handful of seats. This is partly due to C-Voter's prediction of 12 seats for the NDA from Odisha.

In the West, both surveys have almost identical predictions.

NDA’s Tally May Fall Further

The NDA’s tally might eventually be lower than what the two surveys have predicted for a number of reasons.

First, the momentum is firmly with the UPA and the rest of the Opposition. Take a look at the seat share predictions by India Today-Karvy since Narendra Modi became prime minister. After a brief rise in the first few months of the Modi government, the NDA’s projected tally fell throughout 2015, the year BJP lost Assembly elections in Delhi and Bihar. But it began picking up from the beginning of 2016 and rose continuously till it reached its peak in January 2017, around the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections. At that time, the NDA’s projected tally was as high as 360 while the UPA’s tally was one-sixth of that number, at just 60.

However, the NDA began declining in 2017 and it accelerated in the run-up to the Gujarat Assembly elections. The Congress, aided by the youth troika of Hardik Patel, Jignesh Mevani and Alpesh Thakor, capitalised on rural distress and gave Modi and BJP president Amit Shah a scare in their home state.

By January 2018, a month after the Gujarat polls, the NDA’s projected tally had fallen to 309 while the UPA’s tally had risen to 102. What was a gap of 300 in the beginning of 2016 was down to 207 two years later. By August 2018, the projected gap further reduced to 159 and now it is just 71. A rough calculation shows that the gap has been reducing by around 10 seats every month for the last one year. In the last five months, it is estimated to have reduced by 88 seats, that is over 17 seats every month. The NDA’s projected tally has fallen by 44 seats in the last five months.

Secondly, there are several places where the surveys might be overestimating the NDA and underestimating the Opposition.

South India

In its analysis, India Today-Karvy made it clear that they haven't considered TRS, YSRCP or AIADMK as part of the NDA. So their prediction that NDA will win 26 seats in the South is difficult to understand. The only state where the NDA has a significant presence is Karnataka, which has 28 seats in all.

With the Congress and Janata Dal (Secular) likely to form an alliance, the BJP's tally is likely to fall from the 17 seats it won in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.

The BJP no longer has an alliance with the Telugu Desam Party, which helped it win a seat each in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, so any gains in these states is highly unlikely.

That leaves Tamil Nadu, where the BJP has one seat presently and Kerala, where it has none. According to C-Voter, the BJP is likely to draw a blank in both these states.

So Karvy's prediction of 26 seats for the NDA in South India doesn't add up.

Bihar & Jharkhand

While India Today-Karvy hasn't given state-specific predictions, C-Voter gives 8 seats to the UPA and 5 to the NDA in Jharkhand. However, it considers Babulal Marandi's Jharkhand Vikas Morcha (Prajatantrik) as part of "others" and not the UPA. The alliance between the Congress, JMM, RJD and JVM(P) is more or less finalised. In fact the JVM(P) had backed the Congress candidate in the recent bypoll to the Kolebira assembly constituency. So the UPA tally in Jharkhand could well be a bit higher.

In Bihar, both surveys predict an impressive performance for the BJP-JD(U)-LJP alliance. C-Voter has predicted 35 out of 40 seats for the NDA and just five for the UPA. There’s no doubt that the NDA is well-placed in the state after the return of the JD(U) to its fold.

But the alliance didn't win such a huge tally even in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, in which the BJP and JD(U), RJD and LJP and Congress and NCP fought as allies.

Though the arithmetic still favours the NDA, the Opposition is more united than earlier with the RJD and Congress benefitting from the entry of Jitan Ram Manjhi's Hindustan Awam Morcha and Upendra Kushwaha's Rashtriya Lok Samata Party into the UPA fold. The UPA may also arrive at some sort of understanding with Mallah leader Mukesh Sahani, the Left parties and the BSP. The BJP also faces two high-profile rebels in Bihar: Patna Sahib MP Shatrughan Sinha and Darbhanga MP Kirti Azad, who might make it difficult for the NDA to retain these seats.

Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan

Both the surveys predict the BJP recovering ground in the states it lost in the recent Assembly elections: Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan. However, these states have a history of voting the same way in Assembly and Lok Sabha elections, with the only exception of the 1999 Lok Sabha elections. In these elections that were held after the Kargil War, the BJP was able to reverse its losses from the Assembly elections held a year earlier.

Both surveys predict a BJP sweep in Gujarat, presumably because of the Modi factor. However, since the anti-incumbency that reduced the BJP’s tally in the 2017 Assembly polls was partly against Modi’s 12 years as chief minister, it isn’t clear how the Modi factor can help BJP turn things around in the state. While the BJP would still win a sizable number of seats, it might lose a few more than has been predicted.

‘Others’ A Deceptive Category

Both surveys predict around140 seats for “others”. But it needs to be pointed out that all parties in this category are not the same. Even though they aren’t Congress allies as of now, parties like the Samajwadi Party, Bahujan Samaj Party, Rashtriya Lok Dal, Trinamool Congress, Telugu Desam Party, Aam Aadmi Party and All India United Democratic Front have made their stand against BJP absolutely clear. These parties were all present in the Opposition rally in Kolkata on January 19.

These parties put together are predicted to win 92 seats according to C-Voter. Add to this other anti-BJP parties like the Left, All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen and JVM(P), which are predicted to win six seats. The combined seat share of the UPA and these anti-BJP parties is 265, just seven short of the halfway mark.

On the other hand, the parties which are being projected as potential NDA allies by India Today and Karvy – TRS, YSRCP and BJD – have taken no such stand in favour of the BJP as the above parties have taken against it. Their support for the NDA can in no way be taken for granted.

The YSRCP wanted to bring a No Confidence Motion against the Modi government last year. For the TRS, supporting the BJP could cost it the support of Muslim votes and its ally AIMIM, who had enthusiastically supported it in the recent Assembly elections.

The BJD has never taken a clear stand against the Modi government like YSRCP and nor is it dependent on Muslim votes like TRS. But the BJP is emerging as its main rival in Odisha.

This is not to say that the three parties will not support Modi. But if the BJP falls below 200 seats, they could very well back a non-Congress, non-BJP chief prime minister. As the YSRCP’s main rival in Andhra Pradesh is the TDP, it may not even be averse to a Congress-led government in which the TDP isn’t there.

The momentum is with the Opposition as of now. Even a small drop for the NDA from this point on would mean curtains for Narendra Modi. But it remains to be seen if the Prime Minister and Amit Shah can pull a rabbit out of their hat. There are other X-Factors: the appointment of Priyanka Gandhi Vadra as the Congress’ general secretary in-charge for East Uttar Pradesh could harm the NDA as well as the Mahagathbandhan. The protests against the Citizenship Bill in the Northeast could cost the BJP votes as well as allies. On the other hand, a pre-poll alliance between the BJP and Shiv Sena in Maharashtra could give NDA a spurt of a few seats.

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