Why ‘230’ is the Magic Number This Election Season
Though there has been some waffling about it lately, most pollsters have predicted that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) will end up with around 230 parliamentary seats on 23 May.
This is also pretty much what most armchair psephologists have been predicting for the party. It may not be the poll winds alone that have led to this prediction. For, some had predicted a similar number for the BJP before the 2014 polls, a poll in which the electoral mood was clearly far more in favour of the party than it is now.
What then, explains the stickiness of the 230 seat prediction for the BJP in two somewhat different scenarios? It could be the fact that the number covers for all conceivable post-poll government formation scenarios.
It acknowledges that the BJP, together with its allies in the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), has a slight edge in the government formation stakes, but does not completely rule out other possibilities. A 20-30 seat slip either way, a margin of error that pollsters and other crystal ball gazers believe they can live with – without embarrassing themselves – covers for a comfortable NDA win, or an Opposition government. Notably, no other number offers a similar luxury.
What’s Been Said Before About NDA’s Prospects – And Today’s Opinion Polls
The general view all along has been that the NDA would struggle to match its 2014 showing in 2019, unless it made significant inroads into new states to make up for the inevitable losses in the several states it had more or less maxed. This is pretty much how things are supposed to have turned out if opinion polls are to be believed.
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As per most polls, the NDA in 2019 will shed seats in almost every state it had swept in 2014 (a serious drop is projected only in Uttar Pradesh (UP) though; losses in others are projected in single digits) but will add enough to its tally from Odisha, Tamil Nadu (TN) and West Bengal (WB), to end up around the half-way (272-seat) mark.
What explains this almost eerie match between what has been said all along about the NDA’s prospects and what the opinion polls are now showing? It could be that the politically-aware Indian citizen was prescient enough to see how things would unfold, and poll results are honestly confirming it.
But since no one could have foreseen what the Narendra Modi years would have in store, the peculiar issues that would take center stage during the campaign, or the poll alliances that were going to take shape, it is more likely that the clairvoyants are playing safe, and projecting numbers consistent with what has become a truism of sorts over the last five years.
Why the ‘Fortune-Tellers’ Are Playing Safe
There is good reason for the clairvoyants to play safe. The results of shiny, well-organised campaigns, such as the one the BJP is running now, have been unpredictable in the past. Forecasters over-estimated them in 2004 and 2009, and under-estimated them in 2014. More importantly, it is difficult to establish the extent to which the incumbent’s shrill rhetoric will resonate with the electorate. Winners of recent parliamentary elections did not rely on this; they either interrogated the rival’s vikas record and presented their own agenda for change (the Congress in 2004, the BJP in 2014), or showcased their performance (the UPA in 2009).
So, are there any real conclusions that can be drawn from the slew of opinion polls that we have seen? Perhaps, if one were to go beyond the headline numbers and look at the commonalities and differences in state-level findings across polls. These suggest three things:
- The Congress needs to up its game in states where it is facing-off directly with the BJP. Most polls are predicting an improvement in the Congress’ 2014 tally from such states, but not to a degree where it can sink the NDA’s chances of forming a government.
Possibilities As Per Opinion Polls
- In what would not be welcome news for the NDA, variations in projections for four crucial states – UP, Odisha, TN and WB – suggest that certain issues and trends may have been missed or variously interpreted. As per various polls, the number of seats projected for the mahagathbandhan in UP range from 25 to 42 (out of 80); those for the Biju Janata Dal in Odisha between 8 to 16 (out of 21); and, the DMK-led alliance in TN and the Trinamool in Bengal could end up with anywhere between 24 to 33 seats (out of 39), and 25 to 33 seats (out of 42), respectively. This could mean that at least 40 seats in these states alone could swing either way- and make or break the NDA’s chances.
- Non-NDA, non-UPA parties from Andhra Pradesh (AP), Kerala, Odisha, Telangana, UP and Bengal could be holding anywhere between 95-140 seats and, even if the two AP rivals refuse to join hands, a sizeable bloc could emerge, influencing the shape of the future government, more so if existing NDA and/ or UPA allies decide to act in concert with them. That could well see both the BJP and the Congress, keen as they would be to keep the other out of power, rushing in with their support to this Third/ Federal Front.
Indeed all outcomes are possible. Which, of course, is only another reason to run with the 230 number!
(Manish Dubey is a policy analyst and crime fiction writer and can be contacted at @ManishDubey1972. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)