Bihar Polls: 57% People Want Him Out, So Why’s Nitish Still Ahead?

It’s simple: 2 in 5 voters angry with Nitish aren’t sure about UPA, half of UPA voters aren’t sure about Tejashwi.

4 min read
Image of PM Modi (L) and Nitish Kumar (R) used for representational purposes.

Last week, CVoter released its the first opinion poll for the upcoming Assembly elections in Bihar. It’s findings threw up a strange paradox:

  • 56.7 percent respondents said that they are angry with Nitish Kumar’s government and want to vote it out. Another 29.8 percent said that they are angry with Kumar but didn’t want him to go. This meant that 86.5 percent are actually angry with his government.
  • Despite this, the survey predicted that the Nitish Kumar-led NDA, which includes the BJP, will return to power with 141-161 seats and a vote share of 44.8 percent, 11.4 percent more than the RJD-led UPA.

So what explains this paradox of Kumar being ahead despite such a huge unpopularity?


Anger Not Translating Into Victory

In most other circumstances, 86.5 percent people being angry would have led to a landslide against an incumbent . But the problem is that this massive chunk is deeply divided in Bihar.

  • 29.8 percent said that they don’t want Nitish to go despite being angry. This may correspond broadly to a large chunk of the voters of BJP and smaller NDA constituents, for whom Nitish is a majboori for the time being.
  • Even within the 56.7 percent who are angry with Nitish Kumar and want him to go, not everyone appears to be convinced about Nitish’s main challenger - RJD leader Tejashwi Yadav.
  • The projected vote share of the RJD-led alliance, which includes the Congress is 33.4 percent. Even if this entire section said that they want Nitish to go, it would still leave 23.3 percent who want Nitish to go but aren’t convinced about Tejashwi. This could be voters of smaller parties like the Left parties, JAP and AIMIM or those who are undecided.

Can Tejashwi Yadav Rise to the Occasion?

  • A major problem for the RJD-Congress alliance is Tejashwi Yadav's lack of credibility. About 15 percent respondents in the CVoter survey said they wanted to see him as CM, about half of the percentage who chose Nitish Kumar.
  • Now, the UPA's projected vote share is about 33 percent. Even if this includes the entire 15 percent who want Tejashwi as CM, it would still leave 18 percent who didn't choose his name. This indicates that more than half of UPA voters aren’t totally convinced about Tejashwi. Nitish Kumar, on the other hand, may have the support of abut two thirds of those who said they will vote for the NDA.
  • It is clear that Tejashwi hasn’t quite been able to capitalise on the anger against the NDA government in the state. A 33.4 percent vote projection would indicate that the UPA hasn’t quite moved beyond its core vote base of Yadavs and Muslims.
  • Basically the UPA’s problem can be summarised in two bits of math - two in five voters angry with Nitish aren’t sure about UPA and over half UPA voters aren’t convinced about Tejashwi.

Examples from Recent Elections

  • If one goes by the NDA’s projected vote share of 44.8 percent as per the CVoter survey, it would mean a fall of around 9 percentage points from its vote share during the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, when it swept 39 out of 40 seats in Bihar. Since the NDA led in 223 out of 243 Assembly segments in 2019, the CVoter’s prediction would mean a fall of 60-80 seats.
  • This fall is a bit less than what the NDA experienced in Haryana and Jharkhand between the 2019 Lok Sabha elections and the Assembly polls later that year. In Haryana, the BJP vote share fell by 22 percentage points between the Lok Sabha and Assembly polls while in Jharkhand it was close to 25 percentage points.
  • The projected fall in Bihar is similar to what happened in Maharashtra between the Lok Sabha and Assembly elections, a loss of around 8-9 percentage points.
  • This means that like Maharashtra, the vote bases of the two alliances in Bihar are broadly stagnant and large scale shift of sections of voters - like Jat and Dalit voters in Haryana and Adivasi voters in Jharkhand - is not happening in Bihar as of now.

Lessons from Jharkhand

  • The comparison with Bihar’s neighbouring state Jharkhand is instructive. In the first CVoter opinion poll two months before the 2019 Assembly elections, 49.8 percent respondents had said that they want to change the state government, this is actually less than the figure in Bihar. This increased to 55.7 percent by the time polling took place, around the same as the current figure in Bihar.
  • The people who wanted to change CM Raghubar Das increased from 53.4 percent to 60.6 percent as the election progressed.
  • If the UPA gets the seat-sharing and candidate selection right, it can hope for some change in their direction as the campaign progresses. However a few factors that were there in Jharkhand, are missing as of now in Bihar.
  • In Jharkhand it was very clear to voters that in order to defeat the unpopular Raghubar Das government, the y have to support the Hemant Soren-led UPA. This is not the case in Bihar, where Tejashwi Yadav hasn’t quite succeeded in projecting himself as the sole challenger.
  • Also, the BJP in Jharkhand was itself divided with Arjun Munda and his supporters acting against Raghubar Das and Saryu Roy even contesting against Das from Jamshedpur East, eventually defeating him. Such a thing can happen in Bihar, only if the NDA unravels and Lok Janshakti Party contests on its own.
  • As of now, it seems that the large scale shift of an important section of voters - like Adivasis in Jharkhand and Jats in Haryana - can take place only if the LJP quits the NDA.

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