#BiharElections2020: What are the factors which will impact the outcome of Bihar elections? (Part 1)


The poll bugle for Bihar has been blown. The electoral process will be completed in 2 weeks starting October 28 (Phase 1) and culminating on November 10 (Counting Day). Detailed guidelines have been issued by the Election Commission keeping in mind the coronavirus pandemic. The number of booths will be increased by a third, and restrictions have been placed on rallies and door-to-door campaigning.

While the alliances are yet to shape up, early opinion polls suggest NDA sweeping with close to 2/3rd majority. The opposition is sorely missing the charismatic Lalu who is languishing in jail. Smaller players like Paswan and Kushwaha are proving to be a tough nut to crack, bargaining bard for seats. 

In this article we will explore what are the factors which will impact the outcome of Bihar elections.

1. Leadership Ratings

Leadership ratings is one of the key considerations of many voters. This trend of Presidential style elections has come to the forefront after Modi’s grand victory in 2014 general elections. In Lok Sabha elections 2019, three-fourth of the difference between NDA and UPA votes can be attributed to the Modi factor.

In the state elections, since 2014, we have seen the party whose candidate is the most preferred Chief Ministerial candidate, normally goes on to win the elections. A leadership rating of 40% is usually safe for an incumbent according to my research.

In Bihar, Nitish is the preferred CM candidate of only 30% voters as per C-Voter survey. This is in a dangerous zone, in 2015 it was 40%-45% across polls. However, if one combines the ratings of other BJP leaders who people want to see as CM like Sushil Modi and Giriraj Singh, then 46% of voters prefer a CM from NDA. On the other hand, MGB leaders Tejashwi along with father Lalu and Tariq Anwar combined are the preferred choice of only 26% voters.

Preferred CM Choice (Source: C Voter)

Notes: Green: MGB, Orange: NDA, Paswan and Kushwaha not included in NDA / MGB respectively.

2. Caste Arithmetic

Nitish uprooted Lalu raj from Bihar through social re-engineering. He created an overarching social coalition of upper caste, non Yadav OBCs and dalits reducing Lalu’s party to MY (Muslim-Yadav) votebank. The outcome will depend on the ability of Lalu’s son to rebrand Rashtriya Janata Dal and shed its MY tag. How can it be done? By giving more representation to other caste and community groups. MY doesn’t have much choice but to vote for RJD anyways.

NDA enjoys the support of caste groups which account for 60% of state population and MGB balance 40%. 75% of support from these vote blocks translates into a vote share of 45% for NDA and 30% for MGB.

RJD needs to make inroads into Dalit and non Yadav OBC votes. As per opinion polls data compiled by Crowdwisdom360, MGB is witnessing gains from these vote blocks.

Read More about Caste Arithmetic in Bihar Polls Here

3. Equation between Nitish and Modi

Nitish and Modi have been political rivals. Nitish nurtured ambition of becoming PM. They were friends turned foe turned friends again. Nitish left NDA when Modi was made campaign committee chief. Modi humbled Nitish in 2014 general elections, with JDU reduced to 2 seats. Nitish levelled the score in 2015 state elections when he joined hands with bete noir Lalu to defeat Modi at the peak of his popularity. He joined NDA again when plans of grand opposition alliance against Modi for 2019 failed. He took this step to seal his CM seat for 2020.

Now most pundits agree that Nitish popularity is on the wane. Even polls which show NDA sweeping the elections, show his popularity has reduced. While the popularity of the PM remains high post Ram Mandir shilanyas, handling of COVID and the China border row. Nitish now needs the support of the same Modi to bail him out in these elections.

4. COVID and its impact on turnout

The Election Commission, has issued guidelines, for Bihar elections, as a precautionary measure, to ensure safe and secure voting environment during the pandemic. The number of voters per booth will be restricted to 1,000, postal ballots will be provided for senior citizens and COVID-19 patients, separate voting hours will be kept for people with fever symptoms.

Bihar has currently 1.78 lakh covid cases, out of which 13.5 thousand are active. It has a fairly high recovery rate of 92%. Daily around 1.5 thousand cases are getting added, and a similar number are getting recovered. It tests around 1.5 lakh people daily. However, questions are being raised about the nature of tests – antigen or RT-PCR.

Despite measures announced, there is a high probability of low voting or turnout, due to fear of COVID. A low voting is not good news for the opposition. Changes of governments are usually associated with high turnout. A classic example of Gujarat election of 2017 where BJP managed to scrape through helped by lower turnout.

 Latest electionPrevious Election
Haryana69.00%76.60%
Maharashtra61.40%63.30%
Orissa71.30%73.90%
Delhi64.50%67.50%
Gujarat69.20%72.50%

5. Vote Katwas

Independents and smaller parties occupy an important place in Bihar’s political landscape. Many bahubalis have won in the past contesting as independent candidates. Smaller parties like VIP (Mukesh Sahani), HAM (Jiten Ram Manjhi), BSP, SP etc. cater to only a specific caste group or segment. They have garnered an average 25% vote share in the 5 decades. They can make or break the chances of any alliance. Third Front is shaping up in Bihar and if LJP and RLSP join it, then they could become a potent force.

Vote Share of Independents & Smaller Parties (%)

(This is Part 1 of the Factors Affecting Bihar Outcome, other factors in part 2, to be published soon.)

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