Karnataka Elections: Axis vs CVoter. Who Would Emerge The Winner In The Battle Of The Pollsters?

Just half an hour after polls closed in Karnataka, we were literally bombarded with a variety of polls from different media houses. Instead of providing us a broad directional sense what the likely results would be, they served to cloudy the outcome even further. They were polls calling the BJP as a winner, others that called the Congress, while most predicted a hung house.

Exit polls serve two basic purposes. Firstly it permits media to "call"the  elections earlier than when official results are declared. The second purpose as it usually happens in India is that they function as willing surrogates to political parties to play mind games designed to deliberately mislead perceptions of the eventual winner. Politicians use the intervening time between the close of voting and the declaration of results to identify likely winners in order to woo potential defectors so that they could be ready with the numbers to stake claim for government in the advent of a hung house.

Unlike pre-polls, exit polls are expected to have a +1% margin of error. Exit polls are normally a better barometer than opinion polls as opinions are recorded of only those actually voted. If not quite accurate in terms of seats, they do often suggest the directional trend.  We have seen French pollsters consistently accurate, operating within this +1% range. On the basis of exit polls, French politicians even without waiting for final results make out their concession speeches. But this is contrary to the experience elsewhere in the world, whether in the US, UK or India where exit polls have an extremely chequered track record. Even a Poll of Polls often could be a meaningless exercise as if we went by them we should be having President Hillary Clinton instead of President Donald Trump! Indian pollsters in particular have an even more notorious record than their US counterparts as we have only a handful of genuinely polling specialist organizations, with mostly market research firms masquerading as polling specialists. 

Nate Silver shot into the limelight in 2012 when he correctly predicted all 50 states during the US Presidential elections and soon achieved cult status within the polling industry. He observed that among the winners and losers in any election are pollsters. Ironically, Nate lost his cult status and became a butt of jokes when in 2016 he gave Donald Trump just a 25% probability to be the President of US!

Similarly reputations of polling agencies are on stake with their Exit Polls. Since it is not possible for this blog to do a comprehensive analysis of all the exit polls published, we filtered on the basis of statistical outliers and honed on two polls - the AxisMyIndia who predicted an outright Congress win and CVoter that predicted an outright BJP win. That does not mean that we have discounted the probability of a Hung House. It only means that due to constraints of time and resources, we have limited our analysis to out statistical outliers. One of these two agencies would be a loser and another winner on May 15th when the EVMs are opened. Or both could be losers in case of a hung house.


CVoter:  With respect to Karnataka, this polling agency has a fairly excellent record. They predicted the defeat of the BJP in 2013 and hit the bullseye for the BPMP polls of 2015. However in their 2013 Assembly exit poll, while their vote shares were mostly on the mark, they over-estimated BJP by a whopping 6% and under-estimated Yedurruppa's KCP by 2%+, suggesting they may have an inherent tendency to over-estimate BJP. CVoter tends to treat opinion and exit polls solely as a horse race. The agency is not very transparent of their internals of their survey in terms of publishing a report of their methodology, raw and modeled data etc. However, Yashwant Desmukh, founder was kind enough to provide these data as used in the blog through a twitter exchange. 

AxisMyIndia: This is a relatively new kid of the block who made their entry with a splash. We saw them first in the Bihar Assembly polls where their predictions of the Mahagathbandhan (Grand Alliance) victory was initially treated as a statistical outlier which when actualized shot them into instant fame. Their success rate is very high with one notable failure - Tamilnadu. But the latter was actually a too close to call election, which could have gone either way. Calling right and wrong are part and parcel of the psephology occupation and what sets apart a good pollster from a bad one is a success rate of 70%+ which Axis has managed to adhere to till now. Axis too is a horse race pollster but looks more professional than CVoter - the way their desegregated caste numbers according to individual parties coalition as seen later in this post was simply brilliant. Like CVoter, they do not divulge much information on their methodology.


CVoter: Very sketchy information was available on their methodology exists in the public domain. But responding to the blog's query this is what Yashwant Desmukh tweeted

"We covered all seats; but I don’t think a hundred or two hundred samples are good enough for any particular seat projection. Technically speaking Minimum sample required to predict any individual assembly segment would be approx 1280 for that kind of universe.....Exit polls are always face to face."

AxisMyIndia: The agency claims that the covered 222 Assembly constituencies across 30 districts of Karnataka and surveyed 51510 voters.

We would have loved to have included CSDS-Lokniti in this comparative analysis who tonight is expected to publish their post-poll findings. The differential CSDS-Lokniti would have brought in is that they treat polls as less a horse race and instead provides very rich information on the socio-political context under which  the poll takes place that gives more meaning to numbers projected. Where CSDS additionally scores is transparency standards on their methodology and other internals.

Basically both polls project Congress and JDS as identical in vote shares. However CVoter projects BJP 6% higher, the entire difference cannibalized from OTHERS. Here lies the key difference between the two polls.

Considering the number of rebels and minor parties, OTHERS at 3% look grossly under-estimated. Even during the Modi Wave, OTHERS had not been reduced to a measly 3% and this time under an apparently waveless setting, it looks considerably less so going by probability. Besides, this time NOTA itself is expected to be in the range of 2%+ with many disillusioned BJP voters flocking to this button.

For JDS vote share to benefit BJP, it should be less than 15%. But at 17% it is more likely to benefit the Congress as it decreases the Index of Opposition Unity (IoU). Since other exit polls have marginally projected JDS vote share higher, it may be possible that JDS vote share could be slightly under-estimated, the effect of BSP alliance probably not fully reflected. If so, any increase in JDS vote share in counting, should favor the Congress.

Yashwant Desmukh while presenting CVoter findings in News9 claimed that the Vokkaliga consolidation was confined in the Old Mysuru Region and in outside this regions Vokkaligas tactically voted BJP. However with JDS having 17% overall vote share, there appears little evidence to substantiate this claim.

According to Axis, Bangalore looks too close to call with a slight edge to Congress, while CVoter projects a facile sweep for BJP.

The CVoter vote share projections for BJP is much below what they registered during the Modi Wave but substantially higher than what the party registered during BBMP polls in 2015. Read our archive: HERE. The difference in BJP vote share is mainly attributed by cannibalizing the vote share of OTHERS and Congress. The JDS vote at 16% too also looks over estimated as JDS hardly any presence in Urban Bangalore seats, being confined to 3-4 Rural Bangalore seats.

Bangalore registered only 40% voter turnout with the popular perception that a considerable chunk of BJP voters preferring to stay away from voting or pressing NOTA. If CVoter indeed captures the actual mood of the people, it would puncture this perception. 

There exists high congruence between the two polls regarding this region, the vote share difference lies mostly within their margin of error of these polls.  The Congress according to both these polls have a comfortable edge over JDS only because the IoU is low. 

It is clear from these numbers that the BJP did not transfer their votes to JDS and instead may have eaten into the votes of JDS, damaging the latter's seat prospects. Again we witness CVoter projecting OTHERS with a dismal vote share which raises eyebrows whether this is a pattern that is catapulting the state into increased bi-polarism.  

In this region, we find while Axis forecast a sweep for the Congress, CVoter numbers suggest that it is too close to call. Like Bangalore, only one of these polls could be right.

What is clear is that JDS numbers are fairly clear - lying within 8-9% band.

Axis projects a whopping 12% lead for Congress. Cvoter narrows it down to virtually neck-to-neck contest by dwindling Congress & OTHERS votes share by 4%+ and crediting it to BJP.

While exit polls overall paints a mixed picture, most tend to call this region for Congress. This is where the Congress AHINDA base is supposed to be the strongest and we have to wait till May 15th to find out  whether CVoter was on track to conclude that this base suffered a degree of erosion by BJP successfully making inroads into it. 

This region we see a significant variation in projections. Axis calls the elections for BJP while CVoter projections suggest it is too close to call.

Where there are consensus is on the vote share of BJP and JDS. The principal difference is the vote share of the Congress is entirely accounted by difference on OTHERS. Here too CVoter is projecting just 4.4% for OTHERS that look a gross an under-estimate.

If we go by other exit polls, Mumbai-Karnataka, a region that is traditionally a bastion for the BJP, looks mostly a sweep for the BJP but could be closer than 2013. 

Here both polls converge to suggest a BJP sweep in this region. However CVoter numbers suggest a more comprehensive sweep of the region for BJP. This is on boosting BJP numbers largely from OTHERS and to a smaller extent, the JDS. Here we see OTHERS as projected by CVoter to be pathetically reduced to 2.3%!

Here again both polls converge to suggest a BJP sweep in this region. Axis numbers suggest a more comprehensive sweep than CVoter

The gender data of Axis is not available but during their presentation of their findings in IndiaToday Exit Poll program, they did mention Congress had substantially more share of women voters, leading by a margin by 5%+.

On the other hand, CVoter projects women marginally preferring BJP than the Congress.

If CVoter has indeed accurately captured the mood of women voters, then it is akin to women giving a thumbs up to rape, sexual crimes as seen catapulting in BJP ruled states. 

Caste Data 

In the caste desegregated data, we see evidence the methodological superiority of Axis over Cvoter.

LIBRA (Lingayats plus Brahmins)

BJP is trying to create a social coalition of Lingayats, Brahmins, non Kuruba OBCs and poach a section of Dalits from Congress, Vokkaligas from JDS.


Congress is trying to create a rainbow coalition of Dalits, STs, Muslims, Kurubas and Christians while poaching a section of Lingayat voters from BJP and Vokkaligas from JDS.


JDS doesn’t have plus votes apart from Vokkaligas.

Instead of a religious polarization as seen in the cow belt states, it is clear from the caste data the Battle for Karnataka is one between AHINDA and LIBRA with Vokkaligas as spoilers.  Since the AHINDA social coalition represents the poor & the marginalized and LIBRA as mostly representing the upper castes, the Battle for Karnataka is one mainly between the poor and the rich, with Vokkaligas sitting on the fence.

Within this context, the JDS becomes very important, not merely as they could probably be decisive in state government formation but depending on their alignment, can tilt the state decisively for the Lok Sabha 2019 for either the Congress or BJP

AxisMyIndia projecting Congress having an edge is based on the paradigm that their social coalition AHINDA represents 49% of the population while BJP's LIBRA coalition trails behind at 41% and voter turnout confirms that the Congress succeeded in catalyzing high consolidation of AHINDAs.

CVoter projecting a BJP win rest on the paradigm though BJP's LIBRA(41%)  trails behind Congress AHINDA social coalition, the degree of consolidation within LIBRA is much higher which offsets the overall net vote share gap.

However, it should be noted the assumptions of allocating different weightage to different castes and sub-castes is most likelynot  to be fully accurate. The AHINDA social coalition is much larger than 49% as assumed by Axis as per the new caste census undertaken by the Siddaramiah but not officially  released yet.  This statistical error if any, can cause huge changes to vote share projections. Secondly, polls by and large tend to underestimate Congress and JDS while over-estimating the BJP. Being poorer and vulnerable sections, the AHINDA sections of voters may not be as articulate or truthful of their voting pattern fearing reprisals from higher castes. In fact, hours after voting close, instances of reprisals on Dalits by higher castes have been reported.

Overall Sense

Karnataka is vertically split with Coastal, Central & probably Mumbai Karnataka regions being swept by BJP and with the Congress sweeping Bangalore, Old Mysuru & Hyderabad Karnataka.

The winner would be the one, who relatively is able to more comprehensively sweep their respective regions than the other. Whoever wins a simple majority will still need JDS, if not for giving the next state government more stability in numbers, but also for enhancing their winnability for Lok Sabha 2019.

It is difficult to see either AxisMyIndia or CVoter hitting the bullseye. Only one of them can emerge directional right.  Perhaps tonight's Lokniti-CSDS Post Poll could give us which way Karnataka would swing tomorrow.

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