The NDTV-CSDS survey on nine years of the Narendra Modi government revealed, not surprisingly, that the Prime Minister remains popular. But there's reason for the BJP to be worried. More on that later.
First, the good news for the BJP
43 percent people picked Modi as their PM choice. For someone who is in the final year of his second term, this is no small achievement. An identical percentage of people said that they want 'Modi Sarkar' once more.
There still remains a sizable gap between PM Modi and his nearest competitor Rahul Gandhi, who is at 27 percent.
In terms of voting preference, the BJP remains dominant with 39 percent people saying that they will vote for the party if elections are held today. This is 1.3 percentage points more than the 37.7 percent votes the BJP secured in 2019.
The Congress' projected vote share is at 29 percent. This is a significant gain compared to 2019, but it is still a good 10 percentage points behind the BJP.
After nine years in power, anti-incumbency is bound to set in. It's creditable that the BJP's projected vote share is actually predicted to increase.
But the survey revealed some points of concern for the BJP.
1. The Gap May Actually Be Narrower
While projecting vote share, the survey doesn't consider NDA and UPA but considers BJP and Congress, lumping all the pre-poll allies of both parties under 'others'.
We cross-checked with CSDS on whether the vote share projections given on NDTV were for 'BJP/Congress' or for 'NDA/UPA'. They confirmed that it was for the parties, not alliances.
Therefore the vote share projections are a bit misleading because ideally it should have factored in pre-poll alliances.
It is important to know how much of the 28 percent votes projected for 'others' are going to BJP's and Congress' pre-poll allies.
Since the UPA has parties with a bigger vote share on board presently, there is a very high likelihood that the gap between NDA and UPA might actually be even lower than the 10-point gap between BJP and Congress.
Why do we say that the Congress' allies ' vote share could be higher than the BJP allies' vote share?
Let's take a look at the 2019 vote share of parties that are presently aligned with the BJP and the Congress.
The parties presently allied with the BJP secured around 4 percent votes while those allied with the Congress got a little over 7 percent. We haven't factored in the Shiv Sena in either of the two categories because the party has split since then.
The truth is that the NDA has shrunk since 2019, with allies like Janata Dal-United, Rashtriya Loktantrik Party, Shiromani Akali Dal and the Uddhav Thackeray faction of the Shiv Sena walking out. However, it has gained allies like the Jannayak Janata Party and RLSP.
Now these figures may not indicate what will happen in 2024. It is quite possible that the AIADMK improves a bit at the DMK's expense as the latter may have peaked last time. It is also possible that the JD-U doesn't do as well as last time due to the changed alliances. On the other hand, we have not considered the Left as a part of UPA even though it is a pre-poll ally of the Congress in Tamil Nadu, Bihar, Assam, Tripura and West Bengal for the past few years.
But what can't be ignored is the fact that none of the BJP's allies, except for the AIADMK, have a pan-state presence in any big state, that is any state with 20 seats or more. On the other hand, the Congress' pre-poll allies include four such parties - DMK, RJD, JD-U and NCP.
Therefore, the Congress' allies have a bigger base and are likely to have a higher vote share than BJP's allies.
Again, we are not counting the Shiv Sena in either category because we don't know how its base will split between the two factions.
To conclude, the 10 percentage point lead that the BJP has over the Congress may reduce if we make it NDA vs UPA.
What does a lead of 10-points or less mean in terms of seats? This is not easy to predict as one would need the state-by-state picture.
But just for just for context, the NDA had about 44 percent votes in 2019 compared to the UPA's 27 percent, a gap of 17 percentage points. If this gap is falling below 10 points, then it is quite likely that NDA won't get the healthy majority it got in 2019.
2. Consolidation of Anti-BJP Votes
According to the data shared by NDTV, the projected vote share for the BJP is 39 percent and that for the Congress is 29 percent. The BJP's vote share is projected to increase by 1.3 percentage points compared to 2019 while the Congress is registering an impressive increase of 9.3 percentage points from the 19.67 percent it secured in 2019.
This means that at least one in three voters who said they plan to vote for the Congress, hadn't voted for the party in 2019.
It is not clear whether this increase is mostly at the expense of the BJP or other parties. In the recent Karnataka elections, the Congress gained hugely at the JD-S' expense. It also gained a bit at the BJP's expense, but the latter made up for it in a few pockets like Bengaluru city and Old Mysore. If the NDTV-CSDS survey is any indication, it is possible that this pattern might get replicated nationally.
It does seem that the Congress may be gaining significantly at the expense of others and partly at the BJP's expense. The BJP on the other hand might be losing a bit to the Congress but making up for it by eating into others' votes.
This is a calculated guess we can make.
It is very clear that the anti-BJP vote is much more consolidated than it was in 2019.
In 2019, the Congress accounted for roughly one-third of the total non-BJP votes. A rough calculation based on the CSDS survey would indicate that this has increased to 47.5 percent. If we factor in pre-poll alliances, this could take the UPA's share of the non-BJP vote well above 50 percent.
This means that roughly one in every two non-NDA voters, is voting for the Congress-led alliance.
It is possible that in some states this could help the BJP. For instance in Uttar Pradesh, the main anti-BJP player is SP so if the Congress gains at its expense, it could work to the BJP's benefit. The same may be the case in Telangana and Uttar Pradesh. However, these are exceptions.
Overall an increased consolidation of Opposition votes behind the Congress and its pre-poll allies, is not good news for the BJP.
3. Modi Govt Scores Low on Inflation, High on 'Global Stature'
The survey reveals that PM Modi remains popular - in particular, a major chunk of respondents felt that Modi has improved India's standing in the world. 63 percent said India's global stature has grown under Modi and 54 percent said that India has become a world leader.
However, there are aspects of Modi's domestic performance that have left sizable sections disappointed.
As many as 57 percent of the respondents said they are unhappy with the Modi government's handling of price rise, while 33 percent said the government has done well on that front. On tackling corruption 45 percent respondents said that the Modi government's performance has been bad, while 41 percent said it has been good.
In terms of development, 47 percent said that his performance has been good, while 40 percent said it has been bad.
In terms of his handling of Kashmir, 30 percent said 'bad' while 28 percent said 'good'. The remaining were either undecided or couldn't say. This mixed response is surprising as the abrogation of Article 370 is otherwise projected as one of the biggest achievements of the Modi government.
On Pakistan and China, the percentage of respondents satisfied as well as dissatisfied were in the 28-30 percent range.
In terms of overall performance, 17 percent respondents said they are completely satisfied with the Modi 38 percent said they are somewhat satisfied, 19 percent said they are somewhat dissatisfied and 21 percent said they are completely dissatisfied.
For a government at the fag end of its second term, these are reasonably decent numbers.
However, 57 percent respondents being dissatisfied about the government's handling of price rise, 40 percent respondents being dissatisfied on development and 45 percent on corruption should be a cause of worry because these were three major promises made by PM Modi when he first came to power in 2014.
The big picture emerging from the survey is that PM Modi and the BJP are retaining their base but the vote against them is getting more and more committed in their disapproval and consolidated behind UPA. This could lead to a better vote-to-seat strike rate for the UPA than what it had last time. The most likely consequence would be a reduced majority for NDA.
For the UPA to push NDA below a majority, it needs to begin weaning over many more BJP voters than it is presently doing. On other hand, to retain its brute majority, the NDA would need to do something that completely changes the election narrative, removes negativity and arrests the consolidation of non-BJP votes behind the UPA.
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