The 2019 elections are on in full swing. Political campaigning has gone into overdrive. The ruling BJP government has spared little expense to mobilise support in these last crucial days.
Will the strengthened push convert into votes for the BJP and a return to power?
After the first phase of polls on 11 April, a C-VOTER-IANS Tracker survey showed that the BJP’s popularity has taken a dip.
How has popular opinion changed? What does voter turnout in phase 1 of the polls reveal? And the million-dollar question – Who’ll form the government for the next five years? That’s the topic of today’s Big Story podcast, where we’ll be joined by CSDS director Sanjay Kumar.
According to a C-Voter and IANS survey, people’s satisfaction with the Modi government has witnessed some drastic changes in the first months of 2019. Take a look at this, for example.
On 1 January 2019, the C-VOTER survey showed the Modi government had a net approval rating of 32.4 percent. This number hovered between 30 and 40 through January.
That was, until February, when India witnessed two major incidents – First, the Pulwama attack that left over 40 CRPF jawans dead on 14 February, and second, India’s retaliatory airstrikes on a Jaish-e-Mohammad facility in Balakot on 26 February.
On 7 March, nine days after the Balakot air strikes, Modi government’s performance rating was at 62.06 percent according to C-VOTER. A jump of more than 30 percent from January, coming on the back of the BJP reinforcing the image of a “strong government” that could give a “fitting reply to Pakistan.”
Remember, the period post-Balakot saw more than one instance of BJP leaders, like Piyush Goyal, reminding Indians about the lack of retaliation against Pakistan from the UPA government after the 2008 terror attacks in Mumbai.
On 12 March, as nationalist fervour over Pulwama and Balakot faded, the Centre’s approval rating was at 55.28 percent.
This number hovered around the fifties till 22 March, and on 12 April, a day after the first phase of polls, this number dipped even further, to 43.25 percent. But, the popularity of the Modi government declining on C-VOTER’s survey, after the rise post Balakot, is just one side of the coin.
The second side of this complicated equation is voter turnout and voting patterns on the first day of polls... and that’s where the second poll agency, CSDS comes in.
On 6 April, the director of CSDS, Sanjay Kumar, wrote about how the Pulwama attack and Balakot strikes strengthened the Modi government’s chances of returning to power, because they appeared to be a strong government.
Six days later, after phase 1 of polling, Kumar wrote another piece, titled ‘Is it disadvantage BJP post-first phase polling?’
Ninety-one constituencies across 20 states and UTs voted on 11 April. Conventionally, Kumar says, an increase in voter turnout from previous elections indicates that people are dissatisfied with the party in power, while a decline in voter turnout points at satisfaction with the party in power.
But, he adds that from his experience, the BJP voter is very committed to voting for his party, as compared to say, the Congress’ supporter. So, given this, voter turnout in these 20 states and UTs should have risen from 2014, if the BJP’s popularity was on the rise.
But, when you compare data from 2014 and 2019, voter percentages have risen very little in most of the states and UTs that polled on 11 April. In fact, turnout has dropped in several states. For example, in the 8 constituencies in UP that voted in the first phase, overall voter turnout fell from 65.6 percent in 2014, to 63.7 percent in 2019.
The only two seats where voter turnout increased in UP – Ghaziabad and Gautam Buddha Nagar – were seats that were contested by union ministers Mahesh Sharma and VK Singh. He adds that this could indicate that the BJP only has an advantage in these two seats.
The BJP swept all 8 of these seats in 2014. If the trend from phase 1 continues, this could indicate a potential final tally of only 20-25 seats for the BJP in UP. Days before 11 April, CSDS had given the BJP a potential 32-40 seats in UP.
Further, in Bihar and Maharashtra, both states with BJP-alliance governments – voter turnout took a dip from 2014. The seven seats in Maharashtra saw a fall in voter turnout from 63.8 percent in 2014 to 56 percent in 2019. Bihar saw a 1.8 percent drop, from 51.8 to 50 percent in 2019.
The turnout in Assam, Chhattisgarh and Uttarakhand, has also dipped. If the enthusiasm of the BJP voter is trusted, then these numbers could be a cause for concern for the party, Kumar writes.
Now in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, where the BJP is not in power, voter turnout has dropped by 12 and 8 percent since 2014. But given the dominance of regional parties ie, the TDP, the TRS, and the YSRCP, in these regions, the BJP has hardly anything to gain.
But, that said, this is only the beginning of the elections. The tide could very well turn in favour of the saffron party.
(With inputs from IANS and The Asian Age)