2019 Opinion Polls: Modi Remains Popular, BJP Flounders in North

Who’s going to win in the north of India? As far as Delhi is concerned, looks like AAP may pull through again.

10 min read
Image used for representational purposes.

(This is the Part III of a series of conversations between psephologists Yogendra Yadav and Yashwant Deshmukh. Read Part I here and Part II here.)

Yogendra Yadav: The North is not much of a separate region. It is just that the politics of Punjab and J&K does not fit into the pattern of the Hindi-speaking states. If one goes by the record of the local bodies elections and the implosion within the AAP, the Congress appears set to make small gains in Punjab. But that, or a splintered verdict in the J&K hardly affects the national equation. It might add up to a loss of 3-4 seats for the BJP.

2019 Opinion Polls: Modi Remains Popular, BJP Flounders in North

Yashwant Deshmukh: I disagree with both observations. It is hardly a ‘small gain’ for the Congress; contrarily it is a huge gain for Congress in Punjab, as AAP is heading for a complete meltdown. The latest C-Voter tracker shows a gain of 9 seats for the Congress in the north region. Adding a gain of 2 seats for Congress ally National Conference, and this figure goes up to 11 extra seats for the UPA.

2019 Opinion Polls: Modi Remains Popular, BJP Flounders in North

It is interesting to observe the vote share patterns in this region. The latest tracker shows a dip of about 1 percent votes in the NDA tally, but a huge upswing of almost 8 percent for the Congress/UPA. This is clearly coming from “others”, which means AAP in Punjab and PDP in J&K.

2019 Opinion Polls: Modi Remains Popular, BJP Flounders in North

AAP’s Dramatic Meltdown in Punjab

The most dramatic has been the meltdown of AAP in Punjab, where the party polled almost 25 percent in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls. Such was the aura around AAP Punjab that C-Voter erred in its broad trend analysis and projected AAP as the winner in the 2017 Punjab assembly elections in its pre-poll survey. And, hold your breath, even in the exit poll of an assembly election. It was after a really long gap that we picked the wrong winner (last time was 1998 MP Assembly elections when Diggy Raja outsmarted our projection by winning the second term).

How and why it happened, is still a matter of speculation. One hypothesis suggests that the alleged Khalistani support for AAP backfired, and a panic set among the urban Hindu voters of BJP.

This resulted in a clear-cut tactical voting pattern; they shifted lock stock and barrel to Captain Amarinder Singh. Thus, ensuring that Punjab doesn’t get a government powered in some measure, by separatist sentiments. We failed to read this tactical shift.

2019 Opinion Polls: Modi Remains Popular, BJP Flounders in North

After the Punjab results, things have gone from bad to worse for the AAP, and their vote share is nosediving by the day, only to make the contest bi-polar in the state. The party has just 4 Lok Sabha MPs and all 4 of them come from Punjab. The tracker as of 16 November, is projecting a big Zero for AAP. They are unlikely to win any seat in Delhi and definitely nothing from Punjab at the moment.


J&K ‘Experiment’ Backfires

On the other hand, the J&K experiment has completely backfired for the PDP and BJP alike. BJP’s pulling the plug at the right time has ensured that its support base in Jammu remains intact. The NC is likely to gain at the expense of PDP in the Valley, but for the Congress, the revival in Jammu region is still not visible.

The overall narrative, that the GoP is against the Hindu population of Jammu region is still prevalent, even though there is distinct anger setting in against non-performance of the sitting MLAs and MPs from BJP in Jammu.

The BJP’s hold on Ladakh seats has gone for a toss, and it is their loss entirely. The only Buddhist dominated seat from J&K should have become a BJP stronghold by now, but it seems that they just took it for granted, and nothing really moved in this sensitive seat. All in all, the PDP seems to have been a bigger loser in the power game as they are facing almost 5 percent negative swing, entirely from the Valley region.

Its total loss is no less than 3 seats from this region for itself compounded with a further loss of 6 seats for its allies. The SAD (Shiromani Akali Dal) is in a sad state of affairs, and the PDP is in an even sorrier state. The total loss of 9 seats for NDA seems to be imminent. But yes, for the sake of argument, our tracker shows a loss of 3 seats for the BJP which is in line with Yadav’s observation that “It might add up to a loss of 3-4 seats for the BJP.”

2019 Opinion Polls: Modi Remains Popular, BJP Flounders in North

This pretty much sums up Yadav’s thoughts on the two states in the north zone. Since we initiated the discussion on his pet subject of AAP fortunes (apart from what may happen if Modi is defeated in 2019), may I take the liberty to induce debate on two states from his ‘Hindi-speaking zone’. I am talking about Delhi and Haryana. It will help us use this space better and focus on other important things while discussing the ‘cow belt’.

Yadav: Polls suggest that the BJP state governments in Jharkhand, Haryana and Uttarakhand are very unpopular and would cost the party at least 10 seats in these three states.

Deshmukh: I am picking up the discussion on Haryana at the moment from the above statement. I fully agree that BJP government under ML Khattar is extremely unpopular and if the assembly elections were held as of 16 November 2018 (the day this C Voter poll was published originally), he would be in trouble. But at the same time, there is something called IoU (Index of Opposition Unity) which sometime overrides all other sentiments, and results in weird seats spectrum.


The ‘Split-Vote’ Phenomenon

Professor Yadav would know this way better than me because he has witnessed and analysed scores of elections across India in the last so many decades, where Congress won election after election, just because there was no unity among the opposition parties. The fundamentals remain the same, just that the name of the parties have changed. In Haryana, whenever INLD and BJP went for a properly synced alliance, they uprooted the Congress. Else, it was Congress all the way.

Now the Opposition vote split is between INLD and Congress, and this is ensuring a BJP lead even after an unpopular state government. Let me also introduce in this debate the development of “split-vote” phenomenon that I have been flagging for the last 10 years.

Slowly and surely the Indian electorate is giving clear verdicts at different levels of elections, without getting confused regarding specific layers of governance that their anger is aimed at. The slogan that is reverberating across every nook and corner of Rajasthan right now goes like this: ‘Modi tukhse bair nahin, par Rani teri khair nahin’

This is exactly what is echoing across many states where BJP is in power. In a hypothetical scenario of ONOE (One Nation One Election) I can confidently say that if that happened as of today, the BJP might lose half of its state governments, mostly to Congress, but in the same polling booth, BJP voter would still strongly support Modi while voting for the Lok Sabha ballot.

I am glad that this observation of CVoter tracker is pretty much supported by Yadav when he says, “This is where the BJP would try and turn the elections into a presidential-style contest between Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi. Modi’s popularity rating is way ahead of Rahul Gandhi’s. The level of satisfaction with the central government is much higher than satisfaction with BJP’s state governments.”

What’s Happening in Haryana?

Looking at the Haryana vote share, from which equation can one think that BJP is going to get its tally down? It is polling almost 10 percent more than what Congress is polling, and only a hypothetical alliance of INLD and Congress can actually get into MGB kind of arithmetic. Besides, if AAP is facing a meltdown in Punjab due to severe infighting, the same is applicable to INLD in Haryana.

The warring factions of two brothers Ajay Chautala and Abhay Chautala have just expelled each other, and in the long run, this party is heading for the terminal decline in vacuum of the unparalleled leadership of its founder Tau Devi Lal.

It would be very interesting to map and compare the sentiment analysis of INLD support base in Haryana, and Shiv Sena support base in Maharashtra after the death of their founders.


However, please note the distinct upswing of the Congress in Haryana at the cost of INLD and others. Those who wish to understand the nitty-gritty of the Haryana caste-divide should understand the INLD’s core support base has been Jat voters, as has been the case with the Congress, under the leadership of Bhupinder Singh Hooda, for the last two decades.

The BJP catapulted to power by counter polarising the non-Jat voters of Haryana. Now the bigger meltdown the INLD faces, it is all too likely that Jat voters would further swing from them to Congress.

That should give an indirect advantage to Congress in the coming months. But at the moment, you can understand the ballpark numbers as 50 percent of the Opposition votes are split, approximately 30 percent to Congress and 20 percent to INLD; and this is helping BJP win with Haryana with just about 40 percent votes. They are likely to win 6 out of 10 Lok Sabha seats in Haryana, as compared to the 7 that they won in the 2014 elections.

The Capital

And that brings us to Delhi. Here is what Yadav said about the political fortunes in the national capital.

Yadav: The party is in a position to repeat its sweep in Delhi.

Of all the assessments, I am just intrigued with his assessment in Delhi. Not just because he has been a founder member of AAP but has witnessed first-hand what Delhi voter is all about. My only humble submission is that whatever I have argued about Haryana, applies to Delhi with a twist that Congress is gaining in national capital at the cost of AAP. One doesn’t need to be a rocket scientist to tell that. The approximate 35 percent to 40 percent votes of BJP have remained intact all these years, regardless of which layer of elections the Delhi voters have been voting at. For the ready reference of the readers, I have compiled the Delhi vote share for all elections in the last 20 years:


Congress Vote Share Ahead of AAP in Delhi

2019 Opinion Polls: Modi Remains Popular, BJP Flounders in North

The AAP polled about 30 percent in the 2013 Vidhan Sabha and shot to about 54 percent in the assembly elections, a staggering upswing of almost 24 percent within a year. Most of this has been coming from the Congress which crashed down from 25 percent in December 2013, to just about 9 percent votes in the February 2015 assembly elections. From touching rock bottom, the Congress under Ajay Maken has steadily made a comeback, and that was evident in the municipal election results.

In fact, the October 2018 tracker number shows for the first time after 2013, the Congress vote share has surpassed AAP vote share in the national capital. This is no mean feat.

Now, from here it can gain further at the cost of AAP, but that is unlikely to have any impact on the probable 7-0 sweep for BJP because of the division in Opposition votes. While talking about the West Bengal trends, we discussed how a 30 percent vote share is unlikely to yield a big jump in BJP’s seat share simply because TMC still remains 10 percent ahead of the BJP support base. This is also happening to the Congress or AAP in Delhi. One of them might increase 10 percent votes at the expense of another, but the BJP would still be about 10 percent votes ahead of them.

Possible Congress-AAP Alliance in Delhi?

The only way the game can change is the probability of Congress-AAP alliance before Lok Sabha elections. That will put the alliance numerically higher than the BJP. It is interesting to observe that the possibility of MGB in Delhi could mirror the 2004 Lok Sabha vote share when the Congress polled 55 percent against the BJP’s 41 percent. If that happens, it could result in 7-0 sweep against the BJP.

But at the moment, as the things stand on the ground, the BJP is very much in a position to repeat its sweep in Delhi.

But the same is incorrect when we talk about Vidhan Sabha voting trends for Delhi voters. This year in February we did a detailed round of surveys across all 70 assembly segments, to create a report card on the AAP government in Delhi. We found that an overwhelming majority of voters said they were happy with the performance of the AAP government in Delhi and also with the performance of CM Arvind Kejriwal.

As far as Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal’s and AAP’s popularity ratings go, in all likeliness, the AAP would be voted back to power if the assembly elections were held today.

It is just that they don’t see a role for AAP against BJP at the central level, and swing to Congress when asked about their Lok Sabha voting intention. The “split-vote” phenomenon cannot be starker than this one.


But. Delhi Also Misses Sheila Dikshit

But, make no mistake, Delhi does miss its popular CM Sheila Dikshit a lot.

The AAP government is considered only the second best after the 15 year-long-rule under Mrs Dikshit, who unfortunately, had to pay the price of extreme negative sentiment against the UPA-II government.

The fact that the BJP state leadership doesn’t make its presence felt in these tracker numbers underlines the fact that all gains of BJP in the ‘Lok Sabha voting intention’ are purely by virtue of Modi’s popularity alone. Nothing more, nothing less. We will talk about these numbers when we discuss the “Hindi belt” in our final part of the series.

(The author is the founder-director, CVoter International. He tweets at @YRDeshmukh. This is an opinion piece. Views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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