Bihar: Latest Opinion Poll Reveals the Dangers of Seat Prediction

CVoter’s tracker reveals a massive vote difference between BJP & JD(U). This could complicate seat predictions. 

Updated
Politics
6 min read
CVoter’s tracker reveals a massive vote difference between BJP & JD(U). This could complicate seat predictions. 
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The latest data released by CVoter's tracker for the Bihar Assembly polls reveals why it has become a nightmare for pollsters to make seat predictions in the state.

This article won't go into the merits of the opinion poll’s predictions. Instead it would examine two aspects:

  1. What are the X-factors that make seat predictions in this election extremely difficult?
  2. While acknowledging these caveats, what trends from the survey can we really be sure of?

But first the predictions.

Latest CVoter Tracker Numbers

According to the tracker, when respondents were asked which party they planned to vote for, this is how each party fared:

Bihar: Latest Opinion Poll Reveals the Dangers of Seat Prediction
(Kamran Akhter/The Quint)

These figures are irrespective of the prepoll alliances by each party. Times Now, which broadcast the survey findings, also put out a seat projection.

Bihar: Latest Opinion Poll Reveals the Dangers of Seat Prediction
(Kamran Akhter/The Quint)

Pollsters, including CVoter, are usually extremely cautious in giving out seat predictions. In fact, the reluctance is such that often channels end up hiring a third party to make seat predictions based on the polling agency's data.

This caution is justified, especially in an election like the ongoing one in Bihar. Here are the X-factors that could complicate the eventual result:

X-Factors

The biggest X-factor in this election is the complicated BJP-JD(U)-LJP equation, which itself can be broken down into a number of smaller questions.

1. What happens to BJP voters in JD(U) seats?

  • According to the CVoter tracker, 33.8 percent voters said they support the BJP, 14.4 percent said they support the JD(U). Since the two parties are in alliance, the combined vote share would be 48.2 percent. But this is not a simple two plus two equation.
  • BJP and JD(U) are contesting roughly the same number of seats. If JD(U)'s own popularity is just at 14.4 percent, what will happen in the seats where JD(U) is contesting? Will BJP be successful in transferring its entire vote to the JD(U) in those seats? Does it even want to?
One can’t count on a complete transfer of BJP votes to JD(U) in the latter’s seats. In some places, that may go to the LJP. 

2. What about LJP candidates and LJP voters?

  • The above equation becomes even more complicated with the entry of the LJP, a party which is part of the NDA but is contesting the elections against the NDA's CM face - incumbent CM Nitish Kumar.
  • The LJP is fielding a number of former BJP leaders in seats that have been allotted to the JD(U) in the NDA seat-sharing arrangement. So BJP voters in JD(U) seats actually have the option of voting for another party that has openly called for a BJP-led state government and has even fielded BJP leaders as candidates.
  • So keeping this in mind, one can't count on a complete transfer of votes from BJP to JD(U) in all the latter's seats.
  • The LJP factor can work in the reverse way as well. As the party is putting up candidates in only a few of the BJP quota seats, there is a possibility that a major chunk of LJP votes may transfer to the BJP in the seats that Chirag Paswan's party isn't contesting.

3. What happens to BJP voters angry with Nitish Kumar?

  • According to the CVoter tracker, a massive 54.5 percent respondents said that they are angry with the Nitish Kumar government and want a change, 29.5 percent voters said that they are angry with the state government but do not want change, while 15.9 percent said that they are neither angry, nor do they want change.
It appears that a majority of BJP voters are angry with Nitish Kumar. Will they vote for him anyway?
  • This means that 84 percent voters are angry with the Nitish Kumar government while around 16 percent aren't. If much of the 16 percent gets covered by committed JD(U) voters, it would mean that a vast majority of BJP voters are actually angry with the Nitish Kumar government. While most of them are likely to be in the "angry but don't want change" category, there may be a small proportion which may be both angry and wanting change.
  • Will this chunk of voters actively come and vote for JD(U) in its seats or would they choose the LJP or NOTA or not come out at all?

4. What happens to JD(U) voters in BJP seats?

  • It's not as if JD(U)'s committed voters are untouched by the widespread belief that the LJP is being propped up by the BJP to cut Nitish Kumar to size. So would committed JD(U) voters be as enthusiastic in voting for BJP in its seats as they would have in say 2010 or 2005?
  • JD(U)'s committed vote base isn't as strong as that of the BJP or even the RJD. But even a small shift away from BJP candidates could make an impact in tightly fought seats.

Other than this, there are a few points based on Bihar's electoral history that need to be kept in mind.

Don't underestimate ‘Others’

  • 'Others' - basically parties and candidates outside the two major alliances - have never polled less than 33 percent of the votes in Bihar in all elections in Bihar except the 2015 Assembly elections. But even in 2015, 'others' polled 24.2 percent votes, much higher than the 15.8 percent being predicted by the tracker.
‘Others’ have never polled less than 33 percent votes in Bihar, except in 2015. Opinion polls may end up underestimating this vote. 
  • And that is despite the fact that LJP wasn't in the 'others' category last time on but it is this time. Of course some parties like the Left and Vikassheel Insan Party, which were in ‘others’ last time, have now joined one of the big alliances but some like Upendra Kushwaha's RLSP have quit a bigger alliance to join a smaller one.
  • Therefore, the others vote may be higher than what surveys predict. To be fair, most pollsters to give this caveat that that others' vote often gets underestimated in surveys. The question however is, if the others do poll more than 15.8 percent votes as they are likely to do, at whose expense would that be?

No party or front has crossed 45 percent votes in Bihar.

  • In every Assembly election held in Bihar since 1951, no single party or pre-poll alliance has secured over 45 percent of the total votes polled. This didn't happen in the era of one-party Congress dominance or in the Janata wave after the Emergency. Even when the Nitish Kumar-led NDA swept 206 out of 243 seats in 2010, it did so with just 39 percent of the votes.
  • The highest any party or pre-poll alliance has scored is the Mahagathbandhan in the the 2015 elections, with around 44 percent.
  • This is not to say that the NDA cannot cross 45 percent. It is possible that it may happen. But if it does, the seat share may be higher than is being predicted.

Now even if we keep these caveats in mind, there are a few aspects that the survey makes clear.

What the Survey Clearly Tells Us

  • Jobs are the main issue in this election by a long margin. 49 percent people said that that's the most important poll issue for them, roads/water/electricity was a distant second at 12.9 percent. In fact the percentage of people choosing jobs as the main issue has nearly doubled from 25 percent last month.
Bihar: Latest Opinion Poll Reveals the Dangers of Seat Prediction
(Kamran Akhter/The Quint)
  • The BJP is clearly the strongest party in Bihar. It seems that its hold over the 15 percent privileged caste vote bank hasn't weakened and in fact it may have expanded among a section of OBCs and Dalits. It also seems that the anger against Nitish Kumar hasn't affected the BJP as much as it should have. This may be due to the fact that Bihar has never seen a BJP-led government, therefore it is in a slightly better position to tap the ‘change’ vote.
  • The RJD is far from a pushover. It's alliance is more stable than that of the NDA. And it has clearly improved a great deal from the wipeout during the Lok Sabha elections. However, it does seem that the RJD-led alliance hasn't quite succeeded in winning the entire anti-incumbency vote. In comparison, Hemant Soren in neighbouring Jharkhand managed to do that extremely well in last year's elections.
  • PM Modi's popularity is reasonably intact despite the COVID-19 pandemic, the migrant labour crisis and the state of the economy. It has reduced a bit - around mid April about 70 percent respondents had said they are very much satisfied with PM Modi's performance, it is now down to 44 percent.
  • Chirag Paswan’s popularity has gone up as the campaign has progressed. He didn’t figure in the top CM faces in last month’s survey. In the latest tracker, 8 percent picked him as their CM choice, putting him at number four after Nitish Kumar, Tejashwi Yadav and BJP’s Sushil Modi.

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