The Madhya Pradesh election seems to be heading down to the wire, according to CVoter's election tracker for June 2023. With a sample size of over 17,000 people across the state, CVoter has predicted a tally of 112 for the ruling BJP and 114 for the main Opposition, Congress, in the 230-member Madhya Pradesh Assembly.
In terms of vote share also, the two parties are evenly matched at 44 percent each.
This is the big picture. Now, let's break this down.
1. Status Quo Compared to 2018 But Congress Gains From Present Tally
In 2018, the Congress and BJP both had a vote share of about 41 percent and a seat tally of 114 and 109 respectively.
However, due to large scale defections from the Congress led by Jyotiraditya Scindia, the Congress' tally fell substantially by 2021.
Presently, the BJP has 130 MLAs and the Congress has 96 in the MP Assembly. From the present tally, the CVoter survey has predicted gains for the Congress though it is status quo compared to 2018.
2. Shivraj Singh Chouhan vs Kamal Nath: 3 Crucial Aspects
CVoter's tracker shows how the election is becoming a direct personality clash between CM Shivraj Singh Chouhan and Madhya Pradesh Congress chief Kamal Nath.
According to the tracker, 37.4 percent respondents picked Chouhan as their CM choice and 36 percent picked Nath. A little less than 12 percent picked Jyotiraditya Scindia. More on Scindia in the last section.
Coming back to Chouhan and Nath, this data is no small achievement for both the leaders. Chouhan is ahead despite being in power for the last 18 years except for the one-and-a-half years Kamal Nath was CM.
On the other hand, Kamal Nath has become a force to reckon with despite not having a caste base in the state.
'Shivraj Chouhan vs Kamal Nath' is the main angle in this election so let's look at two more aspects on this.
CVoter asked respondents 'Whose Hindutva do you trust more?' Surprisingly, Kamal Nath has a slender lead over Chouhan on this data point - 44 percent respondents said they trust Kamal Nath's Hindutva more while 41.6 percent said Chouhan.
This question was in the context of the Congress under Kamal Nath, invoking Hindu symbolism in the state with considerable regularity.
The fact that Kamal Nath has taken a lead over Chouhan on the Hindutva metric, indicates that this strategy may be working well for him.
However, this also shows how hegemonic Hindutva as an ideology may have become in the state.
In terms of approval rating, 40.2 percent respondents said they are very much satisfied with CM Shivraj Chouhan's performance, 25.3 percent said they are satisfied to some extent and 33.5 said they are not at all satisfied.
Regarding Kamal Nath's performance as Opposition leader, 31.2 percent said they are very much satisfied, 36 percent they are satisfied to some extent and 27.5 percent said they are not at all satisfied.
This indicates that opinion is more polarised around Chouhan and both like and dislike are less pronounced for Nath.
3. PM Modi is Hugely Popular
While the BJP and Congress are evenly matched at the state level, this is not so at the national level. The above graph shows that PM Modi's approval rating is much higher than that of Chouhan or Nath.
As far as PM choice is concerned, 56 percent respondents in MP said that they want PM Modi to be the Prime Minister again. Rahul Gandhi is at a little over 17 percent. Significantly, at third place is Yogi Adityanath at 7.8 percent.
Close to two-thirds of MP's voters picked BJP leaders as their PM choice, yet Congress' state level vote share is predicted to be 44 percent, indicating that a sizable chunk of voters may back the Congress at the Assembly level and BJP at the national level.
Even the approval rating data points to the same picture. 65 percent respondents are highly or moderately satisfied with Shivraj Chouhan, the figure is 67 percent for Kamal Nath and 75 percent for PM Modi.
This indicates that those liking Chouhan or Modi may not necessarily dislike Kamal Nath and those who like the MP Congress chief may not necessarily dislike the two BJP leaders, especially PM Modi.
4. Economic Issues Dominate
According to the CVoter survey, unemployment is the biggest issue for about 33 percent of the respondents followed by 16 percent who said price rise. Close to 60 percent respondents picked economic issues as being the most important for them.
As many as 57.5 percent respondents also said that expenses have become difficult to manage. This is a significant number.
In other states, such as Himachal Pradesh and Karnataka, the centrality of economic woes has worked in favour of the Congress in the elections.
However, these were also states where the BJP's state governments were seen as weak and didn't put forward an efficient model of welfarism.
Chouhan has been a different kind of CM and is known for his pro-poor policies. It remains to be seen to what extent his appeal is intact and whether the Congress can capitalise on economic factors.
5. Regional Differences
The CVoter survey shows significant differences in party leads in the various regions in MP. The survey gives the BJP a massive lead over the Congress in Bhopal and adjoining areas and slender leads in Malwa and Mahakaushal.
On the other hand, the Congress has a sizable lead in Baghelkhand and Chambal, both regions bordering Uttar Pradesh. Interestingly, this is also the primary area of influence of Dhirendra Shastri of Bageshwar Dham.
In the Nimar region which has a high tribal population, the Congress and BJP are evenly matched.
6. Jyotiraditya Scindia Factor
The BJP's deficit in the Chambal region should worry Jyotiraditya Scindia as this is his main area of influence. A majority of the MLAs who defected to the BJP with him, also come from this region.
The CVoter's survey indicates that despite the defections, the Congress' vote share hasn't fallen and whatever losses it may have incurred, it may be making up for them by eating into the base of the Bahujan Samaj Party.
Another interesting data point from Scindia's point of view is that close to 12 percent picked him as their CM choice. If you add this to those who chose Chouhan, it comes to over 49 percent. But the BJP's projected vote share is 44 percent. Now, since Chouhan is the CM and the de-facto CM face, it is highly unlikely that those who picked him as their CM choice won't pick the BJP as their party preference. So it is quite possible that this leakage may be from Scindia supporters.