In ultra-fast hurry mode, the world has learnt a lot about the Aam Aadmi Party in the last few months. The party has opined on subjects well beyond its area of responsibility and expertise, for example, foreign policy, and well within it, for instance, policies on water, electricity, law and order, and how to run a government (from the street or from the office). The media and glitterati have been chattering about the AAP even at dinner. The Congress seems to be caught in the AAP headlights like an ultra-frightened deer. Before one could say copycat, the two states ruled by it — Haryana and Maharashtra — have already announced power cuts along the socialist vision lines of the AAP in Delhi. Mercifully, they haven’t gone the full hog with subsidies for the rich as per Arvind Kejriwal’s dictatorial water policy in Delhi.
Should the AAP be getting this much attention since, at best, it is leading a government with outside support in the small state of Delhi? Obviously not, except for the fact that there is considerable speculation about the impact of the AAP in the national elections a few months hence. It is in this context that the AAP’s actions of recent days have to be considered. By leading a protest march against the Central government, the AAP may not have won hearts and minds, but it has surely won all the TV ratings. One hypothesis that deserves serious discussion is to what extent the media and journalist savvy AAP calculated that the national exposure guaranteed by the protest led by the mad anarchist (not mine but Kejriwal’s and the Union home minister’s words) may not have been so mad.
The results of two opinion polls — India Today and CNN-IBN — have just been released, and both point to more hype than substance in the projections of the AAP as even a semi-major force in Indian politics. Among the major states, the AAP receives a national vote share of 4.6 per cent; excluding Delhi, its national vote share drops to 3.9 per cent. In terms of seats, the AAP receives five in Delhi (both polls) and four outside Delhi (IT poll, with CNN-IBN not making any seat projections). To put this in perspective, the BSP received 8 per cent of the national vote share in 2009, and the CPM-CPI together received 5 per cent. And recall that a political party is considered a “national” party only if it receives more than 6 per cent of the vote in at least four states. Even after all the news, publicity, moral superiority and arrogance, the AAP will fulfil these criteria (according to the opinion polls) in only three states: Delhi (48 per cent), Haryana (17 per cent), and Gujarat (12 per cent).
Both opinion polls were conducted before the AAP’s mad escapade. It is possible its popularity will go down; it is also possible, but not likely, that its popularity will go up post the madness. But the analysis of vote shares presented on Friday (‘When AAP meets IOU’, IE, January 24) was made on the basis of generous transitions (give-ups) of other parties’ voters towards the AAP; give-ups that resulted in a very large vote share for the AAP, upwards of 17 per cent of the national vote.
Going by the mood in the media and among disgruntled Congress voters, maybe this utterly theoretical and simulated 17 per cent vote share was what was being looked at.
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The table documents the give-ups of the Congress, the BJP and regional parties to the AAP, and the corresponding seat shares. These give-ups are radically different (and higher) than those revealed in opinion polls, that is, a Congress give-up of 30-35 per cent and a BJP give-up of 0 to 10 per cent. Most opinion polls pre and post the Delhi election concluded that somewhere between a third and half of Delhi AAP voters would vote for Narendra Modi. Ace psephologist Yogendra Yadav, one of the top three leaders of the AAP, concluded in an AAP survey that about a third of its voters were likely to shift to the BJP. As a conservative calculation, it is
assumed that this fraction will be as little as 10 per cent. The calculations assume that the AAP contests every seat in all the big states (524 seats in total) and obtains votes in each of these constituencies. Neither the Congress nor the BJP have contested every constituency in any election, so this is an ultra-extreme assumption.
The opinion polls suggest that the Congress give-up will only be 7 per cent and predicted the reverse of give-up, again, to the BJP of 26 per cent. These assumptions add up to the simple fact that the deck has been heavily stacked in favour of the AAP — an overestimation of AAP votes to well beyond the dreams of the AAP. The likelihood of such give-ups actually occurring will be the blackest of Black Swan events.
These assumptions lead to very similar vote shares as documented on Friday. But, as the table reports, a near equal vote share can, and does, translate into very different seat shares. That is both the beauty (for the BJP) and the beast (for the Congress and especially the AAP) of the first-past-the-post system. The following four conclusions follow from an analysis of the data and the various simulations conducted.
First, Row 0: Opinion poll results — a seat share for the AAP in the 5-9 range. The AAP vote share, as reported above, is less than 5 per cent. Second, Row 1: If the Congress loses 30 per cent of its 2009 vote share and the BJP holds on to its 2009 level but shows no improvement in votes, the result is a near replica of the opinion polls — a seven-seat projection for the AAP. This despite the fact that the assumed vote share for the AAP is about 12 percentage points higher (around 17 per cent) than indicated by the opinion polls.
Three, Row 6: The most favorable to the AAP, but a historically “unlikely” scenario, is when the Congress gives up 35 per cent of its vote share and the BJP gives up 10 per cent in every constituency. Obviously, this will not happen, for in some constituencies it will be much more, some a lot less. But the constant average does hint at the likely outcomes. In this scenario, the AAP gains 14 seats nationally, six of which are in Delhi. But, and this is an important caveat, the AAP margins of victory in the Delhi seats are razor-thin — they range from 0.2 to 1.2 per cent of the vote, with an average margin of victory of only 0.5 per cent.
Four, Row 4: Unlikely scenarios are reported as well, for example, the Congress loses 30 per cent of the vote, the BJP loses 10 per cent to the AAP but, in turn, receives 10 per cent of the aggregate AAP vote (the Kejriwal-to-Modi conversion). This aggregate includes the votes received from third parties, etc. In this scenario, the AAP ends up gaining only one seat nationwide.
In elections, anything can, and sometimes does, happen. The AAP defied all odds to win handsomely in Delhi. This regional feat has been achieved by many in-state elections. Rarely, actually never, has a debutante party gone on to translate a regional victory into a national one. It is a difficult task. Despite building in very favorable assumptions for an AAP victory, it is difficult to get the party to score in double digits on an all-India basis. The odds, and the gods, do not seem aligned much in the AAP’s direction.
The writer is chairman of Oxus Investments and a senior advisor to Zyfin. This is the second and final article based on work with Prasanthi Ramakrishnan and Sriramjee Singh