What does Bellwether Kasganj, Western UP tell us about the electoral race?

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

This post is  meant more for serious psephologist enthusiasts rather than the casual reader. It provides an introduction to “bellwether” constituencies besides illustrate the role old style journalistic coverage of elections serves as an alternate to opinion & exit polls.

Bellwether Constituencies 

We usually think of sheep more as followers than leaders, but in a flock one sheep must lead the way. A wether or male sheep (usually castrated) leads the flock, usually bearing a bell. ... This animal was called the bellwether, a word formed by a combination of bell and wether. 

How bellwether constituencies became used by psephology as a technique could be traced to on the day of the 1970 general election, when the BBC sent a team of reporters to Gravesend. Their task was to carry out what the BBC’s election anchor Cliff Michelmore trumpeted as “something entirely new”: an exit poll, based on the premise that “if you know how Gravesend votes, you know how the nation votes”. After quizzing people as they left polling stations, the team concluded that Gravesend constituency was about to elect a Conservative MP, and that Britain was therefore set for a Tory government – something the national opinion polls had suggested was not likely to happen. But the exit poll was spot on. It was the first time that the notion of a “bellwether” constituency had been put to a psephological test.

In this election cycle we have seen at least two specific instances of “bellwether” techniques being bandied about. The first was by Dr Prannoy Roy of NDTV who identified Bassi Pathana in Punjab to extrapolate AAP winning (Read: HERE, HERE & HERE) and Shivam Vij, Deputy Editor of HuffPo-India who selected Kasganj as a bellwether of UP, particularly Western UP that goes to polls this Saturday. This blog is of the opinion that Dr Roy had (deliberately?) misapplied the concept of bellwether while we feel Shivam stuck to textbook research methodology. On March 11th, these opinions of the blog would be either validated or falsified by the results announced. 

Quantitative vs Qualitative Predictions

Here is one commenter on the failure of opinion & exit polls in the recent US Presidential Elections: “While there are many lessons to take away from the election of Donald Trump, one is that numbers can lie. Math and stats and data points don’t always tell it like it is. Sometimes you need interpretative answers rather than the “correct” answer. Sometimes the guy spouting words and using simple addition has a keener sense of the forces that govern our society than the one using statistical analysis.” Well one such old style journalist is Shivam Vij who has an instinctive nose to feel the people’s pulse. We saw this evidence clearly during his coverage of the Bihar polls. And now he is in UP on the election trail. We reproduce his two piece article. Keeping to balance-reporting, Shivam may not categorically call out the winner. But if you have the knack of reading between the lines, you may pick up just enough insights to make more sense of the flashy numbers pollsters bombard us with. 

In Kasganj, the election 'hawa' became clear the moment it became clear who the candidates are.

The Bhartiya Janata Party's candidate is a Lodh, Devendra Singh Rajput. The Bahujan Samaj Party's candidate is Ajay Chaturvedi, a Brahmin. The Samajwadi Party candidate is a Muslim, Hasrat Ullah Sherwani.

If you ask them, they will all say they are getting votes from all castes and communities. "Saaton jatiyon ka vote mil raha hain," is a refrain you hear often, the metaphorical reference to seven castes a reminder that this is a mathematical exercise.

Voters seem to be aware of these caste equations--called samikaran--and it is after knowing the samikaran that they determine who the 'hawa' is with. Such is the Lodh domination of this seat--most MLAs in its history have been Lodh--that caste's domination has assumed a larger-than-life image for voters. "Lodh's are 65%," says a Yadav voter. "There are 1 lakh Lodh voters," says a Muslim barber. Both are wrong, because every Lodh voter knows the exact figure of 62,000. These numbers overwhelm public conversations around the election.

Read the full article: HERE

It is often said that Mayawati's voters are 'silent'. It's not true. They were never silent. If you asked them, the Dalits, they'd tell you. But they are seen as being 'silent' because they are not loud.

Upper castes are found dominating the highway tea stalls and the village square, wearing their politics on their sleeve, aggressively telling anyone and everyone who they should vote for. One advantage of having upper castes on your side is that they help build the election 'hawa' with the disproportionately large share in the public sphere.

This election, there is a new silent voter in UP: the upper caste. Their 'silence' is on account of twin displeasure, demonetisation and the pre-dominance that OBCs have been given in ticket distribution. The latter is not a new problem in the BJP. The party's inability to keep together its upper caste and OBCs leaders led to its decline in the late '90s.

In Kasganj, a bellwether seat that has elected the MLA of the winning party in every assembly election since 1974, the caste arithmetic is firmly in favour of the BJP. Even if many upper castes don't vote for the BJP's Lodh candidate, he is likely to win.

If you ask members of the Vaish trading community, or any Brahmin, they might say they will vote BJP or "let's see". It is with hesitation and difficulty they are considering deserting their party, and only for this election.

Read the full article: HERE

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