Quint-CVoter Karnataka Pre-Poll: "Only Modi’s ‘Magic’ Can Beat CM Siddaramaiah!"

Sunday, April 22, 2018

The CVoter latest pre-poll tracker had been just published by my Twitter friend Yashwant Desmukh in TheQuint. As usual you will find Yashwant at his eloquent best in his analysis backed by a lot of useful data that CVoter collected during their fieldwork.  

That's said here's my critique and alternate sense of the same dataset found under 5 major heads:

1. The Title Says It All

"Only Modi’s ‘Magic’ Can Beat CM Siddaramaiah!" 

An extremely loaded title especially the exclamation at the end of the sentence!! It says it all on the state of the race. 

Yashwant's opening paragraph is even more illuminating:

"While much anger has been directed at the sitting MLAs and the state government, the chief minister continues to enjoy popularity. On the other hand, even with a popular CM candidate, the BJP is unable to gain from the anti-incumbency sentiment, mostly because of extreme infighting within the rank and file of the party."

So what does these extracts all combined translate into? It only means that though CVoter found that the Congress was facing a measure of anti-incumbency, the BJP is unable to capitalize from it. In simple words - Congress is ahead, BJP behind! Not Yogi, not Shah, not Yedduruppa, not the much hyped booth level organisation of the BJP nor their social media army. Nothing apparently has worked so far. Nothing is expected to work in future also. BJP is reduced to betting on Modi as their last act of desperation!

The Battle for Karnataka according to Yashwant is framed basically as a Presidential one - "Only Modi can beat Siddaramiah" Here lies the key contradiction in Yashwant's entire analysis. Once it is posited as a battle between two personalities then all other factors such as anti-incumbency becomes completely redundant or secondary. In any case, all data pre-polls including CVoter published so far refute the anti-incumbency factor. For the Congress to face "angry anti-incumbency sentiment", their vote share should technically go below their 36% vote share of 2013 which isn't the case! 

Modi's image has taken quite a beating nationally during the past few months. It is only logical to conclude that if Modi has to work his "magic" then surely it can't be as potent as what he demonstrated in the state in 2014. It is possible that some residual impact of the Modi Wave of 2014 remains and the BJP hopes it is large enough for them to stop the Congress from forming the next government.

CVoter however finds that head to head, Modi still commands a relative edge in popularity ratings over Siddaramiah in the state. Accepting the findings as it were, it is pertinent to ask how practical it is to expect that this by itself could lift BJP fortunes in the state which has a proud history of sharply discerning their political preferences between state and centre elections? In the 1984 Lok Sabha elections, Rajiv Gandhi clean swept Karnataka. A few months later, RamaKrishna Hedge humiliatingly defeated the Congress for the Assembly. What stops history from repeating itself? Besides in 2013, Modi extensively campaigned during Karnataka Assembly elections wherein BJP got routed! Even during the "Modi Wave", the Congress in Karnataka increased their vote share by 5% and trailed hardly 1%!

2. Is Modi a BJP's Trump Or A Just A Convenient Strategic Distraction To Protect Their Achilles Heel - State Leadership? 

These are an extremely significant set of numbers. Nearly 47% of the respondents rate Siddaramiah as better than past CMs as a governance performer.

One of the key handicaps of the BJP as Yashwant highlighted in his opening paragraph was the infighting among their leaders. He observed further that "the House of Congress looks undivided and has accepted the popular face of Siddaramaiah’s leadership in the run-up to the polls".

The real problem for the BJP is that Yeddurrupa is not an undisputed leader even within his own party unlike Siddaramiah within the Congress party. Even today, comes the news that the BJP had experienced a significant split with their backward class leader's KS Eshwarappa Rayanna Brigade splitting away from the party. What makes it worse for the BJP is its past track record in government. Five years of office saw the state have 3 CMs, one CM and many ministers jailed, and the party break up into 3 splinters. 

Within this context, it becomes a strategic campaign imperative for BJP to project the Battle for Karnataka as one between Modi and Siddaramiah in order to underplay, if not relegate to the background, the deep rooted factionalism within the party and their past poor record of providing stable governance. 

But back to the table again. Nearly 47% of respondents rate Siddaramiah as better than all past CMs. The question is, if this is so, why should Karnataka voters be expected to punish the Congress as they have provided better governance than all past BJP CMs - Yedduruppa, Sadananda Gowda and Jagadish Shettar?? Or for that matter, better than Kumaraswamy of JDS or his father Dev Gowda?

The Congress has played ball till now treating the contest as mainly a Presidential one. This has  helped Siddaramiah immensely to grow in stature being pitted with Modi while the state BJP leaders found themselves increasingly reduced to pygmies.

What if the Congress  now do an about turn in their campaign strategy and position the battle for state as a purely local centric one? All they have to do is simply remind people that even if they prefer Modi, he would be not there to govern the state. That in the advent of BJP coming to power, people of the state need to deal once again with the likes of Yedduruppa, Sadananda Gowda, Jagadish Shettar, Eshwarappa and of course the infamous Bellary Brothers! That in the other alternate scenario of BJP and JDS forming a coalition government, the last one proved short lived, plunging the state into politically instability and leading to re-elections again. Such a radical strategic U-turn in the Congress campaign would prove totally disruptive and neutralize the Modi Factor completely! 

To be noted also, a 47% approval rating for Siddaramiah within the state is coincidentally the vote share projections of Cfore & CSDS pre-polls for the Congress!!

3. In a Presidential Contest Anti-Incumbency is A Redundant Factor

More than half the respondents were found by CVoter as UNDECIDED. The moot question is if anti-incumbency is so widespread and intense enough to be a vote decider as CVoter makes it out to be, why are more than half the sample undecided or fight shy to express their feelings more openly? Could an alternate explanation to low anti incumbency against the central government simply be fear of Modi & BJP that prompted many respondents not to reveal their true level of feelings towards the Central Government? 

It is also significant that Cfore which used face to face interview methods did not confront so much undecided numbers regarding incumbency & anti-incumbency. They instead found a pro-incumbency wave. So did CSDS with their Congress 17% margin lead projection. CVoter on the other hand is known to use computerised mobile telephonic interviews that make it difficult to ask follow up questions to those undecided category that makes it difficult predict their likely mood of the undecided category. 

Interestingly, in the US, a research study showed that the 2006, 2008, 2010 Wave Elections to the US State Houses of Congress, saw 85% of incumbents being re-elected even when opinion polls reflected a strong anti-incumbency mood during the same period. (Source: Campaigns from Ground Up: State House Elections in a National Context pg 143). So in a Presidential race, anti-incumbency rarely emerges a major factor with personality mostly holding the key. 

5. CVoter Plays It Safe! Why? 

What I found most appealing about this CVoter pre-poll is that Yashwant did away seat projections totally. There is no magical sure shot statistical formula in converting votes into seats particularly under the Indian first-past-the-post multi-party system though media houses misleading hype seat share projections as the center piece of their shows. Any psephologist will tell you in private though they are literally forced to make a great show in announcing their seat share projections on TV screens by the media that sponsors them. It is better to do away with the farce then to keep on enacting them to gullible audiences who may think these seat share projections are made on some magical statistical formula. At the most seat shares are informed guesses.

That said, why were vote share projections not provided? What is the purpose of a pre-poll without vote share projections? Instead what we find is that CVoter, using perceptions of respondents who would form the next government as an apparent substitute which many readers may inadvertently misconstrue for vote share projections. Why the hesitancy to stick their necks out?

If these numbers howeveris to be treated as vote share projections, this data would contradict CVoter's findings of the Congress experiencing anti-incumbency since their current projected vote share remains more or less at their 2013 level. Similarly, the 2014 Lok Sabha polls witnessed the BJP registering their highest vote share of 43% due to the "Modi Wave". Currently projected at 34.5%, it appears the "Modi Wave" has mostly dissipated and its residual impact is extremely feeble that immediately raises the question why all the hullabaloo being drummed up on back of claims that Modi is yet to work his "magic". In any case, such claims that Modi has not started his campaign are simply gross misinformation. He visited the state at least thrice including rallies in Bangalore and Mysore last month which hardly caused a ripple in impact!

It is also perplexing why CVoter refrained from giving any desegregated data of respondents expecting a coalition government on the basis of breakdown on their predictive voter intentions. This category could include Congress, BJP & JDS potential voters who collectively think that despite their different voting intentions, a hung house is the most likely outcome. It is also possible that that those in this category need not necessarily support the respective party who they think will form the government. A person for example intends to vote Congress may think the result would be a coalition government. Then they could be differences in perception of coalition. Some may think it maybe a BJP-JDS one, while others a Congress-JDS one. So this table is largely meaningless. 

Many questions remains?

- what's the purpose of this meaningless table?
- why no data at all on projected voter intentions?
- why no desegregated data provided on those who feel the next government would be a coalition government
- how come undecided category is not part of this table when it is an inclusive part of other tables?

Come on Yashwant, we deserve some answers!

Note: My critique apart, I suggest everyone interested in pre-polls and particularly those related to the forthcoming Karnataka Assembly elections to read Yashwant's original full post published in TheQuint. Please visit HERE

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