Karnataka Polls 2018: Who among pollsters will end up the Winners & Losers?

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

We live today in a deeply polarised India. Not only our politics and media but also most polls seem to reflect this vertical divide. But this is not a trend confined to India alone and could be noticed the world over  where polls are increasingly derided to being extremely partisan and based on inaccurate interpretations and simplistic analysis. Polling numbers appear to be more and more weaponised and used as ammunition in partisan debates that generate more heat than light. 

Unlike other elections, Karnataka elections has not seen the usual heavy dose of election analysis debates or pre-polls being bombarded at us. The reason for this being so is mostly attributed to the perception that the BJP is not favorably placed in the contest and media have been told to downplay the elections. 

But among the set of polls which had been published,   there would be winners and losers along with results when votes would be counted. So who would be pollsters to hit the bullseye and who would fall by the wayside on May 15th? So let us look at the lineup. 

Ignoring a handful of polls published by some nondescript local media outfits, we are left with 4 serious polls this blog had zeroed on for analysis. 

Their respective backgrounds are briefly summarized as below:

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. CVoter had been carrying tracking surveys for News9Kannada channel, and data in this post had been published first week of January this year. The source for this data could be accessed Here. Unfortunately, full dataset of CVoter is not available

Cfore:  This is the opinion poll wing of the Centre for Media Studies (CMS) founded by Bhaskar Rao who  had been one of the key pioneers of psephology in the country, even before Prannoy Roy of NDTV popularised the science in the country. With respect to Karnataka, Cfore has predicted a bullseye for the past 3 assembly polls. A criticism of this poll had been that was partly funded as an internal survey of the Congress party though this fact had been fully disclosed by both Cfore and the Congress. The source for the data could be assessed Here.

CSDS: Rajni Kothari is the founder of this internationally well known social research and intellectual think tank - Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) . The survey was undertaken by its research wing Lokniti established in 1997 as part of the "Lokniti-CSDS-ABPNews Mood of the Nation Survey". Read Here. CSDS is known for its methodological soundness & transparency unlike all other polling agencies in the country. However except for this tweet by Sanjay Kumar, Director CSDS Here no details of the survey could be found in their website. The political grapevine however suggest that a comprehensive Karnataka survey was carried out by CSDS as adjunct to their Mood of the Nation survey for a political party whose detailed findings they were not allowed to published.

KarvyInsights: Comes across as a total maverick compared to other three polling agencies. A visit to their website reveals that they position themselves as solely a consumer research company and do not at all mention political polling either as their core competence or give details of their previous track record in polling.  Their survey was included in this post only because they had been retained by IndiaToday who published their findings Here.

 Overall State:  Poll of Polls - Seat & Vote Share

So basically we find polls diverging into two categories: 

- The first projects a hung-house as represented by CVoter & Karvy whose vote & seat shares are almost  identical. 
- The second category are represented by CSDS & Cfore whose vote share projections are very similar, projecting a facile win for the Congress.

Historically, as seen in the graph Karnataka typically votes out the incumbent government. To be noted in 2013, BJP splintered into three with Yedduruppa and Sriramulu splitting away and forming their separate parties. But if all the three splinters were considered as a singular entity, their vote share in 2013 would still be around 33% and not 19% as reflected in the graph.

Also seen from the graph that BJP faces a vote share resistance band of 33-34%. This is primarily due to BJP's inability to expand its social coalition base. Even when BJP won in 2008 ,with its popularity at it's peak, BJP had only a vote share of 33% and Congress had 36%. The sole exception was the 2014 Lok Sabha's Modi Wave which saw the party catapult to a 43% vote share in the state. The Modi Wave for Karnataka could be accordingly quantified as roughly 10% in the state

If we were to believe CVoter or Karvy, this resistance  band of BJP is expected to be breached on May 12th this year. Since the Modi Wave have receded all over the country, the only logical explanation is that there should be something else extraordinarily happening to fuel BJP vote share to scale above their resistance band. The other alternate explanation is anti-incumbency. But if at all the Congress faces anti-incumbency at the state level this should be more than offset by the anti-incumbency faced by the BJP at the central level.

Unfortunately, neither CVoter nor Karvy can explain the projected vote share buoyancy of BJP. Instead their data listed a lot of issues - Cauvery, Lingayat or Dalit etc - as clearly benefiting the Congress and negative to the BJP. Consequently only the residual impact of the Modi Wave is left as a theoretically explanation for the buoyancy of their BJP vote share projection . This is probably why the BJP and their supporters are left counting on Modi to come to the state during the last two weeks of the campaign and hope against hope that he could replicate  the same  or at least part of the magic he unleashed in 2014. This despite Modi's image has lost alot of its sheen during the last few months. 

We also come across a stark contradiction in Karvy's finding. On one hand the Karvy survey states categorically that 45% of the respondents feel inclined to give the Siddaramiah government another term. (Coincidentally this number 45% is much closer to the Congress vote share projection of both CSDS & Cfore surveys). However when it comes to overall vote share, Karvy projected only 37% for the Congress, the same number as did CVoter!! 

Interestingly, the Congress vote share growth in the state since 2013 had been nothing short of spectacular as seen the table. Even at the height of the Modi Wave, the Congress sharply increased their vote share and just trailed the BJP by little over 1%. This could be explained by their conscious attempt to widen their social coalition base as represented by their AHINDA model which now includes Lingayats as well.

Bangalore:  Poll of Polls - Vote Share

Bangalore has 28 seats.  Except for 3-4 seats, the  remaining seats are usually a direct contest between Congress and BJP. The city had been a virtual bastion for the BJP for more than a decade and a half. In the 2015 BBMP polls, the BJP even facing anti-incumbency obtained 100 out of 198 seats to Congress 70 seats! 

Now the  Poll of Poll indicates that over the last decade, BJP faces a whopping 11% negative vote share swing. With that kind of vote margin, the Congress should easily sweep the city 20+ seats. Leave aside an outright win, the BJP to ensure just forming a coalition government need to necessarily sweep Bangalore along with Hyderabad-Karnataka (or alternatively Mumbai-Karnataka) and Coastal Karnataka regions. If it falters in anyone of this region, the BJP can kiss regaining Karnataka goodbye. 

CVoter's vote share projection for Bangalore is not available however they project 19 seats for BJP, 10 seats for Congress and 2 seats for JDS. The total adds up 31 instead of 28 seats, probably because 3 seats are categorized under Bangalore instead of South Karnataka. Karvy on the other hand projects a slight swing in seat shares for both Congress & BJP with 14-15 seats & 13-14 seats respectively. Cfore in contrast projects a sweep of Bangalore for the Congress.

What could explain BJP's dramatic decline in Bangalore?

Apart from issues like Cauvery, Kannada pride, Lingayat, Dalit etc issues that are factors perhaps universal to the entire state, Bangalore having one of the largest urban middle class population and being one of key business hubs in the country, voters tend to be most sensitive to issues like demonetisation, GST, economy, jobs, women's safety etc. Social media play a huge role and compared to other parts of the state, voters are more informed and less gullible to fall for  fake news dished out by BJP IT cell. 

Another key variable is that the demographics of Bangalore have been changing radically at a furious pace. In 2008, the fate of these seats was decided by 67.3 lakh voters. This year, it will be decided by 87.9 lakh. This marks an increase of 21 lakh voters.While the state overall added 9% new voters this year, the corresponding figure for Bangalore is a whopping 24%.

Telugus for example constitute almost one-third of voters and they largely sympathize with the notion that the BJP betrayed Andhra.  First time and youth voters account for a significant chunk of new voters and their concerns are jobs, economy, freedom, empowerment of women, rapes etc. Unlike 2014 where the youth had been swayed by Modi's oratory, they appear much wiser 4 years on.
HYDERABAD Karnataka, MUMBAI Karnataka:  Poll of Polls - Vote Share

Hyderabad Karnataka (40 seats) and Mumbai Karnataka (50 seat) are the Lingayat heartland of the state, together account for 90 seats. Karvy projects the BJP comfortably ahead in both regions while Cfore predicts both regions as facile wins for the Congress.

All the surveys published so far in the public domain have not factored neither the Lingayat separate religion nor the Dalit oppression issues, as both issues blew up after their fieldwork of their surveys. In addition, in the Mumbai-Karnataka region, the Mayadayi River sharing with Goa is apparently a red hot raging issue.

The BJP claims these issues are hardly affecting their prospects, the media feigns knowledge what impact these issues will have on voters while surveys like CVoter & Karvy appear to confirm these assertions.

The Congress on the other hand appear extremely gung-ho over their prospects in both the regions, boosted by surveys like Cfore & CSDS. They are also tremendously pumped up by the fact that most of the Lingayat mutts have thrown their weight behind the Congress and the mega crowds going ecstatic over Rahul Gandhi road shows & rallies. Congress leaders including Siddaramiah admitted publicly that never before they saw crowds like the type Congress is attracting this year in both the regions.

Whatever the reality, the key result area for both regions revolve around the degree the Congress succeeds in eating into BJP's core constituency - the Lingayats. Anything above 25% of Lingayat community could torpedo the BJP to a distant third place as they did  in 2013. 

CENTRAL Karnataka, COASTAL Karnataka:  Poll of Polls - Vote Share

These are extremely interesting findings. Karvy calls both the regions for Congress while Cfore project the Congress as marginally trailing in Central Karnataka while leading comfortably in Coastal Karnataka. 

Coastal Karnataka is perhaps more interesting of the two districts as it is RSS Hindutva's Lab in South India. The region has 68.99% Hindus, 17.40 Christians and 13.15% Muslims. The BJP had lost no opportunity to communally polarize the region but the Poll of Poll finds that the BJP still trailing in the region. If BJP had not been able to communally polarize Coastal Karnataka, then they might as well forget about such a strategy providing electoral dividends in rest of the state. 

In 2008, a sizeable chunk of Christians voted for the BJP. However by 2013, that changed and the Christians voted in large numbers against the BJP. They were upset with the Church attacks which included a strike on the Milagres Church in Mangalore. As for the Muslims, even in 2013, parties like SDPI & MIM ate into Congress Muslim votes. The MIM is not contesting the elections this time while the SDPI is only a fraction of the force it was in 2013. The region does not have any significant Vokkaliga population, but the JDS still commanded influences by cornering minority votes, who have now largely consolidated around the Congress. Accordingly the vote share of JDS & Others should significantly shrink which the Cfore appears to have captured. 

Meanwhile, Central Karnataka is the region which Yedduruppa, BJP's CM face comes from that has also a significant population of Lingayats. Though a tight fight is expected in this region, it is possible that erosion of Dalits & Lingayats could decisively tilt the region in favour of the Congress. Here some of the biggest challenges for the Congress are curbing dissent & anti incumbency. So candidate selection for the Congress holds the key to winning this region.
 SOUTH Karnataka:  Poll of Polls - Vote Share

The BJP and JD(S) are strong in some sub-regions whereas the Congress has influence in the entire region. South Karnataka or Old Mysuru region is dominated by the Vokkaliga caste which all the three parties are trying to woo. For Congress, their strong men like Siddaramiah, Parameshwara, Verappan Moily come from this region. The Congress also been bolstered by defections from the JDS. 

South Karnataka is the Vokkaliga heartland. The JDS main constituency are Vokkaligas who consider ex PM Dev Gowda as their leader. The Vokkaliga votes have been badly splintered in the past. However, there is ample evidence of Vokkaligas consolidating around the JDS in a big way in this region that should give the party a high strike rate. Dev Gowda have announced this would be his last election and the Vokkaligas in sympathy is rallying around JDS as their farewell gift to him. Secondly, seeing their traditional caste rivals, the  Lingayats consolidating around the Congress, the Vokkaligas as a counter reaction is consolidating around the JDS. The party had traditionally attracted minority votes. But this time, minorities are consolidating around the Congress. However, the loss of minority votes is offset to an extent by Veershaivas switching from the BJP to JDS. Their biggest challenges is a depleted party afflicted by defections and scarcity of funds.

Given this scenario, the kind of vote distribution as seen in Karvy findings is highly improbable. The JDS vote share can grow by mostly canabalising BJP not INC. Similarly, both BJP's and JDS' vote share cannot increase at the same time. Only one of them cam grow at the cost of the other. Accordingly, it is highly likely that vote share of the BJP collapses in the region as the fight takes on a highly bi-polar character between Congress and JDS.

If Karnataka votes their caste, the Congress is poised to generate a Tsunami Wave

As compared to the CSDS Lok Sabha 2014 voting pattern, Karvy projects for every community segment, the Congress have considerably increased their vote share. In 2014, the Congress registered 41%, and yet Karvy projects them only 37% in their 2018 pre-poll! Their maths do not appear to add up.

The biggest problem for the BJP is their narrow social base. They are poised to lose vote share across all caste groupings, the erosion of Lingayats, Dalits & Vokkaligas are particularly biting them hard as they are unable to offset these losses. 

They are left to opt for defensive play - trying to fragment the backwards, Dalits and Muslim vote base of the Congress. Unfortunately, all their strategies in this line have come to naught. While an outright win looks extremely dim, a tiny window of opportunity still exist to snatch victory from the jaws of death if they can ensure a hung house. 

For this they need to sweep at least 3 districts - with wins either in Hyderabad or Mumbai Karnataka & Bangalore regions as pre-requisites. In all these 3 districts, their prospects look extremely dim. Hence they turn their sight to a Greenfield region - South Karnataka to offset these losses. Unfortunately a deeply entrenched Congress and a buoyant JDS is fast turning the contest as a bi-polar one, canabalising ironically the BJP vote share. 

Despite the loss of minority votes, JDS relative buoyancy is accounted by the consolidation of Vokkaliga around the party supplemented by disillusioned BJP voters but still anti Congress switching to JDS. Though depleted organizationally and starved of funding, the JDS by deciding to contest only half the number of seats, avoided dissipating their energy & funds, concentrating on constituencies where winnability is higher, which should ensure a recent strike rate for them.

The Congress remains the runaway favorite to win the elections as they succeeded in forging the widest social coalition that represents nearly 60-80% of social communities in the state. They stand at the door of history to whip up at least a two third majority to get re-elected for a second term, the first time in 3 decades. For this is to actualize, they need to avoid any costly self goals during the last stretch of the campaign.



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