No proof required: Seeking redemption in UP 2017

Many expect the Uttar Pradesh election to go the Bihar way — a big loss for BJP. However, the same math suggests the BJP is likely to win a comfortable majority in the state

Written by Surjit S Bhalla | Updated: March 9, 2017 6:22 pm
uttar pradesh polls, uttar pradesh polls 2017, uttat pradesh elections, up elections, sp-congress alliance, sp congress alliance, rahul gandhi, Suresh Niranjan, up elections 2017, up elections phase 2, up elections phase 2 turnout, indian express, india news Akhilesh Yadav, Mayawati, Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi Express & PTI photos

It was Bihar 2015 that started the rout — of pollsters, that is. There was near-universal expectation by politicians, pollsters,  opinion and exit polls that the BJP, 18 months after its resounding Lok Sabha victory, would romp home in majority glory. It was not to be. Almost the entire class failed. Ditto for the unexpected Brexit vote; ditto squared for the US election. I have been forecasting elections since the late 1980s, often as a hobby, and sometimes as a part-time profession. I was lucky to get the Bihar election almost spot-on right, that is, I had said that the BJP+ would get 60 seats, not 160 seats as most were predicting. BJP+ obtained 58 seats.

WATCH VIDEO | Assembly Elections 2017: How Has UP Voted In The Past Explained

 

But I did get the US election wrong, and wronger than most. I had forecast that Hillary Clinton would win by a landslide, and if it weren’t for the unexpected college-educated white women’s “support” for Trump, I, and practically the whole world, would have been right in forecasting Clinton as President. But that analysis waits another day — maybe if redemption is received in getting the UP forecast right!

UP 2017 is being discussed in the same breath as Bihar 2015, which is as it should be. They are the two largest states that are part of the Hindi-Hindu heartland, and both important for the long-term success of the party at the Centre. Amidst much fanfare and discussion, sworn enemies Nitish Kumar and Lalu Yadav joined forces in Bihar 2015, and the Congress happily pitched in for the ride. This unity party was appropriately termed MahaGathbandhan (MG) or “Grand Alliance”.

However, UP 2017 is not Bihar 2015, for the simple reason that a major third party — the BSP — has been left out of MG, so the opposition is left with just a G: SP plus Congress. Before proceeding with the analysis, a bit of background history of UP, in terms of vote shares, is relevant. The BJP won a plurality of the votes in three state elections (1991, 1993 and 1996); average vote share, with very little volatility, was 32 per cent. In the 2012 assembly elections, their vote share was a low 15 per cent — which catapulted to, in a space of two years, 43 per cent in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. Meanwhile, for the 21 years 1993 to 2014, the SP and BSP have both averaged around 25 per cent, regardless of whether it was a state or national election.

Watch Video | UP Assembly Elections: Murli Manohar Joshi, Indresh Kumar Casting Ballets, 22,84 Per Cent Voting Recorded Till 11 AM

The first conclusion that emerges is that there is a core vote for both the SP and BSP, of around 20 to 25 per cent, and a declining core vote for the Congress, possibly now in single digits. The second conclusion is that something happened in UP in 2014: That something was the emergence of Narendra Modi as the leader of the BJP. The big question for all analysts is the following: Does one take the 2012 state election results as the base, or the 2014 national elections as the base? The wide variety of forecasts we are witnessing in UP, and only in UP, is that some analysts are choosing 2012 as the base and concluding that UP will go the Bihar way, while others, who are taking 2014 as the base, are concluding that UP is for the BJP to lose.

We believe that the latest information is always preferable, unless there are strong reasons to reject this very reasonable assumption. In addition, given the sharp jump in the BJP vote share, it is a bit hard to imagine that the UP voter will, in a wholesale fashion, revert back to 2012 — though some loss in the 2014 BJP vote share is likely.
For the 2017 UP election, the SP and Congress have formed an alliance. But unlike Bihar, a major third party, the BSP, is not part of the alliance. Bihar was an “alliance math election”, as UP will likely turn out to be. This math states that if the 2017 votes are a replica of the 2014 vote, a Bihar-like MG (SP + BSP + INC) would result in a resounding victory for the MG — 263 seats. But 2017 is a three-way fight — BJP+, BSP, and G — and three-way fights should not be confused with two-way match-ups. Going from MG to G, the “alliance” is able to win only 78 seats with the BJP winning 317, and the BSP winning only eight seats.

So, our first major conclusion is that UP ain’t Bihar — and most so because of the defining math of a three-party election. How big the BJP victory is in UP will depend on how much vote share they lose relative to 2014: If the municipal elections in Odisha and Maharashtra are to be believed, the BJP is likely to gain in vote share. In addition, notebandi has turned out to be a vote-getter for the BJP.

However, there are two strong statistical factors arguing for a decline in the BJP vote share in UP, rather than the constancy assumed above. First, they scaled historic highs in 2014. Second, the ruling party at the Centre has historically lost around 5 per cent of vote share in subsequent assembly elections. If this loss is imposed (with equal 2.5 per cent gains to both SP+ and BSP), the seat shares which emerge are BJP+ 254, SP+ 127 (with INC 21 seats) and BSP at 22 seats.

The table shows that we are wide off the mark in UP, according to both conventional wisdom and the opinion polls. We have been there before, but we do realise that while we can’t get it right like Bihar, we shouldn’t get it wrong like Clinton. There is security in numbers — and forecasts. Hence, the table shows what our models, and method,
suggest for the remaining four states going to the polls.

In Punjab, we get the SAD-BJP alliance losing badly; however, it is relevant to note that while SAD is on a declining trajectory, BJP actually won six more seats in 2014 than in 2012 (18 vs 12). In contrast, SAD went from 56 seats in 2012 to 33 seats in 2014. But unless the entire decline in the SAD+ vote goes to AAP, which is unlikely, the Congress, while losing everywhere else, should win.

Uttarakhand and Goa — it is difficult to not see the BJP winning. Manipur, however, might spring a surprise. The opinion polls are suggesting so, and given the notebandi surge for the BJP elsewhere in the nation, and the belief among voters across India that Modi is a man of action and vision, it would be foolish to rule out a strong BJP showing.

So, what does it all add up to? We don’t know. But what we do know is that some of the favourite explanations for how India votes are not entirely accurate: For example, elections are determined by caste voting. That is always true — except when it is not true! Above 85 per cent of blacks vote Democrat in the US, but no analyst, and not even a lazy journalist, has ever stated that the black vote is determining any election. Analogously, a rock-solid percentage of the SC vote is for the BSP, but did the SC vote cause Mayawati to win in 2007?

Another change in Indian electoral behaviour is that the assembly vote is also a referendum on the leadership at the Centre. Regardless of whether my forecasts are accurate or not, I do feel confident that the identification of these mega-trends in Indian elections is accurate.

Surjit Bhalla is Contributing Editor, ‘The Indian Express’, and Senior India Analyst at Observatory Group, a New York-based macro policy advisory group. Views are personal

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  1. C
    CPK
    Mar 9, 2017 at 2:50 pm
    Yes, I recollect Surjit's prediction on Bihar very well, I think on India Today and he was the only one who stuck his neck out and predicted very accurately that the Laloo-Nitish combine would win and provided an excellent justification through vote share analysis vis-a-vis the 2014 general elections and which stood the test of time when the results were finally announced and he remarked 'I told you so'. I have admired and followed his views ever since. I see that today also, he has stuck his neck out on India Today TV and is predicting a landslide victory for the BJP and I have an uncanny feeling that he will be proved right again. Let's wait for the 11th!
    Reply
    1. S
      SriRam
      Mar 9, 2017 at 3:51 pm
      Surjit singh bhalla should be made super election commissioner of India for his predictions. There is no need of counting of votes now.JO BHALLA KAHE SO SAHI
      Reply
      1. S
        SriRam
        Mar 9, 2017 at 3:41 pm
        This 30 % is more than 90 % because all the so called intelligent persons have declared the results without counting of votes. There is no need of any counting now
        Reply
        1. S
          SubbuI
          Mar 9, 2017 at 6:35 am
          WE NEVER KNEW BHALLA IS ALSO PREDICTS ELECTION RESULTS.YES CHECKING BACK HE PREDICTED BIHAR RESULTS AND SO WERE MANY DID CORRECTLY.AS AGREED HE AND SO MANY FAILED MISEARABLY IN US PRESEDENT ELECTIONS AND IN BREXIT TOO.We DOT KNOW WHAT WAS HIS PREDICTIONS FOR THE DELHI EMBLY ELECTIONS.LET THAT BE ANY THING . BUT THIS ECNOMIST VIEW ON DEMONETESATION IS ABSOLUTELY RUBBISH AND PRO MODI.AND ALL HIS ECONOMICAL AND CORRESPONDING VIEWS ARE PRO BJP AND PRO MODI TO THE CORE. SO A MODI BHAKTH BHALLA IS OPTIMISTIC AS ANY BHAKTHS. BUT IRRESPECTIVE OF BHAKTHS WISHES THOUGH MAN PROPOSES IT IS GOD WHO DISPOSES.lt;br/gt;YES. NO WISHFULL PREDICTIONS. FACT IS BJP FOR A VERY BAD SURPRICE ON 11th.EVEN GOD IS NOT HAPPY WITH FALSE PROMISES, JUGADS AND JUMLAS ALONG WITH KAMRISTHAN POLITICS.TWO DIGETS FOR MODI AND TWO DIGETS FOR BEHNJI.EVEN. TOGETHER NO MAJORITY.FIRST BJP MUKTH UP SND THEN BJP MUKTH BHARATH IN 2019
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          1. A
            Atul Sharma
            Mar 9, 2017 at 10:18 am
            BJP looks comfortably placed !!!
            Reply
            1. Z
              zizek
              Mar 9, 2017 at 4:59 am
              "The UP election may result in a big loss for BJP or a comfortable majority in the state."lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;And I thought predictions are made one way or the other!
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                Martha Tapia
                Mar 9, 2017 at 12:30 am
                Mr Surjit was the only one who was bang on with Bihar predictions. I read his column during Bihar elections where he predicted a BJP rout just as I am now reading his predictions for UPlt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;The gut sense that you get by reading news and from talking to people is a much better predictor than the exit pollslt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;I will too try my hand at predictions. AAP is winning Punjab with 80 seatslt;br/gt;BJP is winning 180 in UPlt;br/gt;Goa will be a hung houselt;br/gt;Congress may win in Uttarakhandlt;br/gt;Manipur is unclear to me
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                1. I
                  IndiaVsCurropt
                  Mar 9, 2017 at 6:51 am
                  LEFT that is never right. why people like this ideology i don't know. these people are not correct in any way and tries to apply the formula of divisiveness. India has a different definition of secularism that is to oppose Hinduism and support all other religion; which is not right. That's why LEFT that is never right.
                  Reply
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                    Anil Maheshwari
                    Mar 9, 2017 at 5:14 am
                    The essence of the article is "But what we do know is that some of the favourite explanations for how India votes are not entirely accurate: For example, elections are determined by caste voting. That is always true — except when it is not true!" It is said that analysts and pollsters refuse to amend as they are devoid of ground realities and continue to base their essment on the axiom "cast your vote to your caste".
                    Reply
                    1. a
                      a_D
                      Mar 9, 2017 at 11:24 am
                      anything less than a clear majority for BJP.....and Modi should quitlt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;especially that he has claimed already that he is getting 250 seat.
                      Reply
                      1. V
                        vijay
                        Mar 9, 2017 at 11:40 pm
                        you think the chief minister of Bengal and her loyal istant might have read this lt;br/gt;article ? I hope so.I like to have been the fly on the wall when they did so.
                        Reply
                        1. S
                          Saheb Rao
                          Mar 9, 2017 at 10:36 am
                          MR Bhalla seems totally preoccupied and presudieous for winning BJP in UP....it looks totally baseless...whosoever wins(difficult to predict)...should be fair for democratic strengthening of India...and its future....
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                          1. A
                            A A
                            Mar 9, 2017 at 7:02 am
                            Of Course BJP is getting comfortable majority in UP. But does it stamp demonetization ? Or a success in 2019 be taken for granted !! lt;br/gt; lt;br/gt;I think "No".
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                              BAPTY.s Seshasayee
                              Mar 9, 2017 at 7:57 am
                              Good sensible rational article by Mr Bhalla ,THKS to Ind Exp. he hit the nail on the head. It's not Cong, S.P, BSP vs BJP. It's MODIJI vs all these regional satraps and I include Congis in that. They are a shrunk party. lt;br/gt;The Bharosa People of Bharath ,and U.p have on MODIJI Is unimaginable.. I feel Modijis BJP will get 250 plus. Let us save U.P and Bharath. We don't hv time to waste . lt;br/gt;If only U.p had both LOK Sabha and embly polls to gether ,the future of u.p would hv been so very good already. lt;br/gt;Thank u.
                              Reply
                              1. B
                                BHAGWAT GOEL
                                Mar 9, 2017 at 1:47 am
                                Shri Surjit Bhalla, one muslim ,a very poor from a village shouted in camera ' i shall vote for Modi. I got free gas.'' Another, an educated one lamented that local chaudhris give to their own. Showing Modi is not to blame for. I believe this says a lot.
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                                1. M
                                  Mandar
                                  Mar 9, 2017 at 7:50 am
                                  such predictions should be banned and election commission should conduct elections using ballot paper and on one single date itself. All organisations are losing credibility under the fascist brahminical BJP.
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                                  1. V
                                    Venkatraman Shenoy
                                    Mar 9, 2017 at 9:32 am
                                    A literate with an i and l in front!
                                    Reply
                                    1. V
                                      Venkatraman Shenoy
                                      Mar 9, 2017 at 9:40 am
                                      Ever since electronic voting machines (EVMs) came, congress has always lost majorly. If it still ruled India fraudulently, it is thanks to desh-drohi Left and pseudo secular state parties. EVMs are here to stay, whether you like or not.
                                      Reply
                                      1. V
                                        Venkatraman Shenoy
                                        Mar 9, 2017 at 9:35 am
                                        Mr.Bhalla got it absolutely and astoundingly right in Delhi, when no other psephologist was anywhere near the mark. Therefore, I have a feeling that Bhalla's reasoning is on the right track. This is an election Modi can only win.
                                        Reply
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                                          Dr.Damodar Biswal
                                          Mar 9, 2017 at 7:03 am
                                          The left feels that they have the right ideology,sir.We may disagree with their ideology but can not say that it is wrong.
                                          Reply
                                          1. D
                                            Dipak
                                            Mar 10, 2017 at 1:12 am
                                            MahaCHOR fat ugly elephant lady's huge corruption did not work.
                                            Reply
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