By Shreyas Sardesai & Biswajit Mohanty
Forty-five per cent of Delhi residents believe pollution is the biggest problem facing the national capital today; eight in ten support the government’s odd-even scheme; and one in ten say they will vote keeping the air crisis in mind — these are among the findings of a comprehensive opinion survey among Delhi’s voters, conducted between November 22 and December 3, 2019 by the Lokniti programme of the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS).
The survey was conducted in the context of the Delhi Assembly elections slated for early 2020, and aimed at capturing the perception of voters on issues pertaining to governance in the city and their assessment of the work done by the Aam Aadmi Party-led Delhi government on water, electricity, health, education, public transport and air quality during the last five years.
Key findings from the survey will be reported through the week — today’s piece focuses on the survey’s findings related to air quality and pollution, an issue most residents of the capital considered to be of utmost concern.
Asked an unprompted open-ended question on what they thought was the biggest problem facing Delhi ‘at the moment’, 45% (more than two in every five) of the total 2,298 adults interviewed spontaneously said it was pollution (table 1). This was followed by unemployment (12%), water issues (7%) and poor sanitation (5%).
While it comes as no surprise that pollution was cited by a plurality of voters as the city’s most pressing problem, given that the survey was conducted in a month when the national capital experienced a massive drop in air quality levels and recorded seven severe air pollution days, what is significant is the gap of over 30 percentage points between the first and the second most cited problems.
While the survey found economically well-off and better educated respondents to be more likely to report pollution as being the biggest problem compared to others, pollution was cited as a pressing concern even among those belonging to the lower economic strata and the less educated (table 8).
In fact, close to nine of every ten (88%) said pollution was an ‘extremely serious’ issue, and close to one of every ten (9%) described it as being ‘somewhat serious’ (table 9). These percentages were equally high even among those who had not reported air pollution to be the biggest problem facing Delhi in response to the open-ended question.
Respondents were also asked what they thought was the main cause for rising air pollution levels in the city. Nearly two in every five (37%) blamed it on stubble burning by farmers in neighbouring states; close to one-third (30%) said that vehicular emissions were the main cause; and one of every eight (13%) identified polluting industries in and around Delhi to be the key problem (table 2).
While 6% felt that pollution was being caused by the burning of waste and grass in the city, only 4% blamed it mainly on firecrackers, even though the survey was conducted just a month after Diwali.
Even though stubble burning by farmers in neighbouring states was reported by a plurality as being the single biggest factor behind Delhi’s air pollution, adding up the percentages of all other factors mentioned by the rest of the respondents suggests the majority of Delhi’s voters pin the blame on factors local to the city.
Thus, when voters were asked subsequently which government was responsible for the problem of air pollution in the city, a plurality (27%) held the Delhi government responsible for the situation; 13% blamed the Central government; 11% blamed the governments of neighbouring states; and 23% said it was the joint responsibility of all governments (table 3).
A sizeable 20% chose none of the options offered but instead spontaneously put the blame on the people themselves. It could, again, be argued that the majority of respondents did not put the burden of responsibility entirely on the Delhi government’s shoulders alone.
The survey also sought to gauge public opinion on the odd-even scheme that was reintroduced in the city for the third time in the first half of November. An overwhelming eight of every ten respondents expressed their support for the scheme (six of every ten fully so), with only a little over one of every ten opposing it and the rest being non-committal (table 5).
Interestingly, the respondents belonging to car-owning households were nearly as likely to support the scheme (76%) as the rest of the respondents. Also, quite significantly, support for the scheme was found to be fairly high among the BJP’s Lok Sabha voters at 77% (55% strongly and 22% somewhat supported it). Opposition to the scheme by some BJP leaders does not seem to have influenced the opinion of BJP’s recent voters much, and may well prove to be counterproductive come the assembly election.
Overall, the survey found most respondents to be quite satisfied with the steps taken by the AAP government in dealing with the problem of air pollution. Asked to give marks to the AAP government out of 10 for its efforts on the pollution front, the government obtained an average of 6.36 from the respondents (table 4). While 17% gave it an excellent rating (9 or 10 marks); 31% gave it 7 or 8; and 37% gave it an average rating ranging from 4 to 6.
Very few respondents (10%) rated it poorly, that is, below 4. Even among those who claimed to have voted for the BJP in the Lok Sabha election, the proportion giving AAP a high score (7 or more) far outnumbered those giving it a low score (less than 4) (table 6).
Finally, in the survey, the respondents were also asked whether in the last few years they had ever thought of leaving Delhi and settling down elsewhere because of some dissatisfaction. Nearly one in every four (23%) said that such a thought had crossed their minds (table 10).
On being further probed what had made them think about shifting out, nearly half (46%) said that it was Delhi’s pollution (table 11). The second most important issue making people consider leaving the city was lack of jobs. Here, too, pollution could well be a factor, as many daily-wage construction workers might be finding it difficult to get work owing to ban on construction activity when pollution is at its peak.
While it remains to be seen to what extent pollution in the city will affect people’s voting behaviour when elections eventually take place two months later, there are indications from the survey that the issue might matter much more than it used to in the past. Compared to the 2015 assembly election, there is a significant rise in the proportion of those who consider it to be an important voting issue.
Back then, hardly anyone was found by Lokniti’s post-election survey to have voted keeping pollution in mind. In this latest survey, at least 10% of all respondents and 15% of those who think pollution is the city’s biggest problem said they plan to do so. If this sentiment holds till voting day, it would mark a significant shift in how Delhiites vote.
(Shreyas Sardesai is Research Associate at Lokniti-CSDS. Biswajit Mohanty is Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science at the Deshbandhu College, University of Delhi. He is also the State Coordinator of Lokniti-CSDS in Delhi)
HOW THE SURVEY WAS CONDUCTED
The findings presented here are from a survey conducted in Delhi by the Lokniti programme of the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS). The survey was conducted from November 22 through December 3, 2019 among 2,298 voters in 115 locations (polling stations) spread across 23 Assembly Constituencies of the capital. The sampling design adopted was multi-stage random sampling.
The Assembly Constituencies were randomly selected using the probability proportional to size method. Thereafter, five polling stations within each of the sampled constituencies were selected using the systematic random sampling method. Nearly 50 trained field investigators conducted face-to-face interviews of the respondents in Hindi asking them a set of standardised questions on mostly governance-related matters. The interviews were conducted at every fifth house of a polling station in order to ensure randomness.
The interview duration was about 30 minutes on average. In order to ensure representativeness and correct for underrepresentation of key demographics, the achieved raw sample has been weighted by Gender, Religion, and Caste group based on Census 2011 data. All analysis here has been presented on the weighted data set. The survey was designed, supervised and analysed by a team of researchers associated with Lokniti.
They include Shreyas Sardesai, Biswajit Mohanty, Himanshu Bhattarcharya, Manjesh Rana, Dhananjay Kumar Singh, Vibha Attri, Jyoti Mishra, Sakshi Khemani, Aditya Pandey, Neel Madhav, Fakru Zzaman, Deepti Mary Minj, Muzamil Yaqoob and Jagannath Kashyap. Prof. Suhas Palshikar and Prof. Sandeep Shastri guided the research team in analysing the data and with the write-ups.
The survey was directed by Prof. Sanjay Kumar of CSDS. Lokniti would like to acknowledge the support of Durba Chattaraj of Ashoka University who partially supported this survey with the Franklin Research Grant of the American Philosophical Society.