#BiharElections2020: Why is it too early for opinion polls in Bihar?

C-Voter released an opinion poll on Bihar on the day election dates were announced for a three phase poll in the state. It predicts a comfortable win for National Democratic Alliance (NDA) with 141-161 seats. Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) led Mahagathbandhan (MGB) is expected to win only 64-84 seats as per the survey. Nitish Kumar is set to return as CM for the fourth time, despite struggling in popularity ratings, mainly riding on the TINA factor (there is no alternative).

 TallyVote Share
Others13-2321 .8%

Source: C-Voter

The first phase of polls is still a month away, alliances have not been finalised and seat distribution has emerged as a sticky point between the partners on both sides, NDA as well as UPA.

So why do I say that it is too early for opinion polls to predict the outcome correctly.

1. Recent Track Record:

Opinion polls conducted so early generally have a bias in the favour of the ruling party. Post the Lok Sabha election, 4 state elections have taken place, and the polls were way off target in two out of three states for which data is available.

  1. The 1st opinion poll for Maharashtra predicted a NDA sweep with tally of 205 seats, actual tally was 161 seats (-21.5%)
  1. The 1st opinion poll for Haryana too predicted a NDA sweep with 78 seats, actual NDA tally 40 (-49%).
  1. In Delhi, the 1 st opinion poll was bang on in terms of predictions.

Research by Crowdwisdom360 shows that the average error produced by opinion polls in Bihar in the last 4 elections with respect to seats tally is in the range of 20%-35%.

2. Alliances not yet finalised

While the poll predicts a NDA victory, both NDA and MGB are still geplling with allies teething issues.

We don’t know whether Paswan’s Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) will be part of NDA or not? We don’t know whether Kushwaha’s Rashtriya Lok Samata Party (RLSP) will be part of MGB or not?

Even if they remain in NDA / MGB respectively, how many seats they get to contest is important. There are talks of a Third Front comprising LJP, RLSP, Pappu Yadav’s party and other smaller parties.

Paswan has good hold among Dalit voters comprising 6% of population while Kushwaha has decent hold over Koeri/Kushwaha voters who account for 8% of state’s population. Paswan is preferred CM choice of 6.5% of voters while Kushwaha is of 5.1% voters. If they contest separately they will impact the prospects of NDA and MGB.

 NamePreferred CM Of
Nitish Kumar30.30%
Tejashwi Yadav15.40%
Sushil Modi9.20%
Lalu Prasad8.30%
Ramvilas Paswan6.50%
Giriraj Singh6.20%
Upendra Kushwaha5.10%
Tariq Anwar2.60%

Source: C-Voter

While LJP bagged 5% vote share in 2015 state elections, RLSP bagged 2.6%. Both of them contested as part of NDA at that time.

3. Candidates have not been announced

In my profession as a political consultant, I keep on meeting leaders, workers and strategists. Once I met a top RSS functionary in a state where I was working and he told me that 50% of the election outcome is based on ticket distribution. A party has to face a lot of pressure from many quarters – workers, public, financiers, organization – while allotting tickets. It has to also keep in mind the money and muscle power angle.

As a thumb rule, one-third voters vote on the basis of the candidate. In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, as per CSDS post poll survey, for 32% voters, the candidate mattered the most while voting.

Since NDA has been in power for the last 15 years (except for a brief moment), many MLAs of the ruling combine are in their 2nd or 3rd term. These polls don’t check local anti-incumbency factors. Many people might like Modi, even Nitish, but what do they do if they don’t like local MLA. To negate this, BJP has been denying tickets to 35%-40% of its sitting MPs in general elections. However, the number is lower at 20%-25% for state elections. How many sitting MLAs are changed by NDA could play a key role.

4. Lack of Momentum

This is the first election after COVID struck the world and India. People are grappling with lives and livelihood issues during the pandemic. The economic catastrophe caused many migrants to come back to their home state. They are struggling to make their ends meet. Floods in some parts have exacerbated the situation. Elections and choosing their MLAs / government is not exactly on the top of their minds.

The restrictions on rallies and electioneering due to COVID means that the mahaul of elections have not yet kicked in. It will take a bit of time for the momentum to build in. This could also impact turnout which may impact the election outcome.

5. Overemphasis on national factors in state polls

The poll shows NDA benefitting from PM Narendra Modi’s image. 48.8 percent rate his performance as “good”, 29.2 percent as “poor” and 21.3 percent as “average”. The role of PM, his popularity and prevalence of national issues like Ram Mandir, Article 370, Triple Talaq, in state elections is overhyped in my opinion.

People are electing a CM not a PM and state issues matter. Modi was very popular in Maharashtra, Haryana as well as Delhi, where the party suffered losses. Only 7% voters voted on national issues in Delhi and  just 5% in Maharashtra.

While the NDA is favorite to win, it’s still early days for pollsters in Bihar….

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