In the last week of September, Lokniti’s pre-election survey found the NDA to be ahead of the maha gathbandhan. A few weeks later, when we began our post-poll survey, we found that a significant turnaround was taking place, and the grand alliance had taken a substantial lead over the NDA. We estimated the gap between the two alliances to be about four percentage points (The Indian Express, November 7), but eventually it turned out to be even bigger.
So, what changed in Bihar in a few weeks to send the NDA to a grand failure from seeming success?
A comparison of our pre- and post-poll surveys suggests there was a late surge in favour of the grand alliance with a fairly large proportion of voters (26%) making up their minds either on voting day or just before. Compared to many other election surveys we have done in the past, this is quite high. An analysis of voting preferences by when the respondent decided, reveals that the maha gathbandhan had a substantial lead among the late deciders. Contrary to popular perception, they do not overwhelmingly belong to lower castes, or are poor. The popular commentary that “silent voters” swung the election for the maha gathbandhan in the last leg is not borne out by the data.
It is also not the case that the statement by the RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat in late September calling for a rethink on reservations and the Dadri lynching incident brought the NDA down. In a state where 43% of the electorate has either no or very low media exposure, 37% of voters had not heard of Bhagwat’s statement, and 7% were ambivalent over the issue. The remaining 56% were equally divided in their support and opposition to the statement, and their voting for the NDA and grand alliance respectively was equally intense.
Awareness of the Dadri lynching incident too was found to be low — with less than half the voters not having heard about it.
What seems to have hurt the NDA most in the final stretch is its overestimation of the popularity of Modi and his government, and underestimation of the strength of the Lalu-Nitish alliance. Between the pre-poll and post-poll surveys, not only did Nitish’s acceptance increase, the popularity of Modi and his government declined. In September, only 42% of respondents said Nitish’s government should get another chance; in the post-poll survey, this had increased to 52%. In the pre-poll survey, only 27% of respondents said they would like Nitish to be CM again; in the post-poll survey, this was 40%.
Nitish gained popularity among Yadavs, lower OBCs, Muslims, and supporters of other parties. Moreover, the personal popularity of Nitish Kumar between the two polls did not decline as much as Modi’s did.
The maha gathbandhan, particularly Nitish Kumar, made price rise, and especially the soaring prices of pulses, a big election issue. Maha gathbandhan supporters mocked the PM for having gone from “har har Modi” to “arhar Modi”. In the pre-poll survey, 12% of respondents said inflation would be the most important issue for them; in the post-poll survey, this increased to 16%. The jump was greatest among middle class respondents, with the figure increasing from 14% to 22%. In the post-poll survey, inflation emerged the second most important poll issue behind development, unlike pre-poll, where unemployment had been the second most important concern. The proportion of those blaming the central government for price rise also went up from 37% to 40% between the pre-poll and post-poll surveys.
Shreyas Sardesai and Rahul Verma are associated with Lokniti-CSDS.
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