Millennium Post

Elections 2014 – An Analysis!

By the time this article goes to print Elections 2014 will be underway. In my last few columns I have analysed the likely trends in voting and the strategies which political parties have followed in the run up to the elections. In addition, in the past few months, a series of election surveys have surfaced each predicting the voting percentage and the number of seats parties will hold in the next parliament.  Assuming the survey give a broad qualitative trend, what I will try to do here is analyse what are the probable explanations for the predicted results. As is obvious, the factors affecting performances of individual parties are dramatically different.

But first, a word about the surveys. The strength of a survey is often touted by its presenters as being measured by the size of the sample chosen. Thus, one survey claimed that its results are probably the best as it sampled over 30,000 voters. However, sampling theory tells us that the size of the sample has no necessary bearing on the statistical validity of the results. So the results of a sample of 5,000 voter may be statistically superior to those obtained from a sample of 1,00,000 voters if there is no selection bias in the sample and it satisfies all the properties of ‘randomness’ necessary in sampling. Second,  some surveys (for example the one conducted by Hansa for NDTV) are now conducted at regular intervals.  However, the results are only comparable if  the voters are exactly the same in different sample runs. This ‘controlled’ sample is difficult to generate. Even more important, with more than two parties contesting the translation of voting percentages to actual seats is extremely unreliable. Finally, it is not clear if the surveys have controlled for what social scientists call ‘strategic distortion’of preferences: the preference given by a voter may not reflect how he actually votes on election day.  In what follows, I will thus be commenting on the trends in voting percentages and not on who is expected to form the next government.

A qualitative inspection of the various surveys clearly shows that the Congress may well suffer its worst defeat in many decades. Why is this so? Analysts seem to argue that this is due to ‘corruption’ in scams like 2G, coal, commonwealth etc. However, surveys of voting preferences do not support this. The reason is that it is not high level corruption (defence, coal etc) which worries voters.
It is the grass root corruption (day to day administrative issues) which disrupt an average man’s life which really matters. This is what led to the rise of the AAP party in Delhi, the response to Anna Hazare two years back and the spontaneous rallies following the Nirbhaya incident in Delhi in 2012. It is the failure of the Sheila Dikshit government to project administrative changes in Delhi which explains her amazing loss rather than the mega scams. As I have noted earlier, the BJP vote percentage in the assembly elections last year actually fell but the Congress lost huge percentages to the AAP and emerged a poor third.

So does the ‘corruption’ issue  work for the AAP? It doesn’t now as it would seem that Kejriwal is most concerned about the Ambanis and the Adani’s: crony capitalism is bad but targeting that does not win elections unless it can be shown to impact a voters daily life. The lack of focus of the AAP is clear in its incorporating known members of  Left activism, the Lohiates and prosperous businessman in its core group. This  has led to a meaningless manifesto while the political  principles necessary in selecting electoral candidates seem unknown. It is not surprising that the AAP does not figure anywhere in the national calculations of any of the surveys with the possible exception of Delhi. As I have noted in an earlier column, the great expectations from the AAP led it from zero to hero in one year but is likely to take it back to zero in another year. The Left and the Congress could well be back in business.

The real new story is not the emergence of the BJP-led NDA but the margin of victory it is expected to post. If the surveys are any indication, the NDA is unlikely to need any major regional party to form the government at the centre. This would be the first time since 1989 that any single pre-poll alliance has obtained even close to a majority. What explains this? From what I have written in earlier columns, four factors seem important. First, Modi has successfully targeted the youth with the promise of jobs: remember, about 25 per cent of voters are in the crucial age group of 18-25. He thus brings development to the forefront and, with the performance of Gujarat (good but not the best),  projects himself as the only one who can deliver this development thus removing issues like reservation, caste etc. from the main discourse. Second, by successfully establishing allies in the northeast and the south the BJP has ensured a foothold in areas where it has never had a presence while at the same time other small allies elsewhere ensure it does not lose due to a split in anti-UPA votes. Finally, by never answering any charge on being anti-muslim, Modi has ensured this does not become a major debating item with other national leaders: it takes two to debate!

If the results of the surveys are validated, the rise of the NDA will reflect better organisation, internal unity and media management rather than the anti-UPA ‘wave’ that many analysts seem to talk about. In the same way, the decline of the UPA (read Congress) is mainly due to poor organisation, arrogance, political centrism and handling of perceptions. But more on this in a later column.

The author is professor of Economics at JNU

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