Thursday, April 16, 2009

Lok Sabha elections 2009: Will Opinion polls prove right?

Real test of credibility of Opinion polls [2009]

Opinion polls have failed quite often but that doesn't deter TV channels from conducting their own pre-election surveys which claim to represent the voters' mood.

In a month, the composition of the Lok Sabha will be clear and I am looking forward to see if any of these polls would be close to the actual mandate given by the Indian electorate. No doubt the opinion polls interest the audience but once again we will see how much the pollsters know the pulse of Indian citizen.

Almost all the channels have given a clear edge to the Congress-led UPA. NDA has been trailing in opinion polls except the one, conducted by India TV. The most recent analysis of NDTV*, shows that UPA is going to get 210 seats [231, if Samajwadi Party supports it after election], followed by NDA 166.

The third and fourth front will be in the position to make or break the next government. I really don't see how Congress is getting 163 seats, as the table above shows. After all, which states are they going to get so many seats from? Isn't it too much in favour of Congress?

As per the analysis:

BJP gets 123, JDU 22, Shiv Sena 9, AGP 4, Akali 3, RLD 3,INLD 1 and NPF 1.
CPI (M)-CPIRSP-Forward Bloc 42, BSP 42, AIADMK 13, TDP 18, BJD 9,TRS 4,PMK 4 &JDS 2
SP 21 RJD-LJP 10 and PRP 2
Independents and others 8
Total 543. Needed 272 for majority. Two MPs are nominated.

It seems so easy here for UPA. If either Left or BSP comes to rescue, the UPA will reach the magic figure. But is it going to be so easy? I don't think so.

Star News-AC Nielson forecast had given UPA 257 and NDA 184 seats. CNN-IBN and CSDS poll gave margins: UPA 215-235 and NDA 165-185. Some other channels including Total TV said that it will be a UPA whitewash and BJP would be nowhere.

India TV however predicts that NDA will emerge as the biggest alliance with 189 seats and UPA will be a close second with 185. With the first phase of poll already behind us, it's a matter of weeks that the likes of Prannoy Roy, Dorab Supariwala, Yogendra Yadav and other psephologists would sit and tells us how close to the results, they were in their opinion polls.

What about Uttar Pradesh?

Nobody seems sure of what is happening in Uttar Pradesh. The state that has a population of 180 million (180 crore) will hold the key. Through out the 90s, BJP remained a favourite for psephologists and they wrote off SP every time. However, Mulayam Singh Yadav emerged stronger with every elections.

Now after Mayawati's victory in the Assembly polls, BSP seems the most intriguing party to everyone. Pollsters are even predicting 40 seats out of 80 to BSP. This is despite the fact that Brahmins are not going to vote for BSP with the same passion which they did in the Assembly polls when the issue was a change in the state government.

Besotted by Behenji

Many see a revival of BJP. However, a Varun Gandhi episode can't change the caste-based UP politics overnight. BSP had a tally of 19 seats in the last Parliament. It may go up to 24 or 26 but I find it unbelievable that their vote percent would shoot up as much that Mayawati would be able to bag half of the seats of the state.

In fact, these days everybody seems to love calling Mayawati an enigma. She is already being touted a Queen. I have nothing against her but I feel, most of the journalists are in awe of her as she doesn't allow anybody to get close to her. NDTV gives BSP 42 seats. Is it plausible? Of course, SP may lose some vote but it will hold its turf.

Either it's Lok Sabha election 2004 or the Vidhan Sabha elections of 2002 and 2007, SP has maintained its vote share at 26%. No other party has managed to do that (except Congress at a mere 8.8%). BSP had in the meantime increased its share considerably (by +7%) while BJP lost as much (-7%).

In 2004, SP had won an astonishing 37 seats followed by BSP that had 19 seats, BJP could win 10 and Congress 9. RLD had got 3 while two Independents had entered Parliament from UP. Now let's wait for May 16, and see correct these psephologists have been about Election 2009.

What about Bihar-West Bengal?

Apart from UP, I am in interested in the performance of Left in West Bengal and whether the alliance of Lalu Yadav-Ram Vilas Paswan will stop the Nitish Kumar's JD (U)-BJP juggernaut in Bihar. Both have solid and transferable vote banks but if opinion polls give them just 10 seats, I wonder at the sample size of the electorate that was taken in consideration.

In one of the first polls, two decades back Congress was given a majority though it was VP Singh's National Front that ultimately formed government with BJP's support. Over the years, we have seen polls go horribly wrong. In Tamil Nadu polls had missed the clear strong electoral wave.

So I am eagerly awaiting the election results to see the veracity of these polls. Howsoever, smartly these results may have been presented, it's tough to come out with figures that can be justified in case either of the fronts emerges clear leader.

Why it's tough to predict in India?

We don't have a US like system. Neither do we have a two-party system. Often electorate doesn't know the (regional) party he has voted for, would end up supporting Manmohan Singh or LK Advani or neither.

TDP, AIADMK, BJD, RLD and many others can go anywhere. In multi-cornered [three and four cornered] fights, as in most UP seats, mathematics can't work. So it's not statistics alone that can lead us close to the real picture.

Especially, when the people hide their support. Muslims, Backwards and Dalits often publicly name Congress or BJP as the party of their choice in UP but end up voting for BSP or SP. So, the credibility of the polls is at a real test in this election. Waiting for May 16. And if they go wrong will the psephologists, accept it and say sorry!

See related stories on Elections 2009 on this blog:

BJP, Congress equally worried about numbers: Who will form government UPA or NDA?
The Opinion polls give Congress edge, BJP slipping
Will UP Muslims vote for Samajwadi Party?

[*Link to the above-mentioned programme/NDTV analysis]