No anti-incumbency wave in HP, but Cong inching closer to BJP

Himachal Pradesh looks set for a tough electoral contest between the incumbent BJP and the opposition Congress. There’s no visible strong anti-incumbency wave against Chief Minister Prem Singh Dhumal yet but the Congress seems to have inched forward in popularity since 2007, promising to make the elections scheduled next week a close affair.

The pro-incumbency sentiment in the state is stronger than the anti-incumbent sentiment, according to a CNN-IBN survey. However, the margin between the main contenders is not large. The BJP still leads the vote share at 41 percent to the Congress’s 40 percent. But it’s a three percent slide for the former compared to the 2007 elections where it had secured 44 percent of votes. The Congress is one percent up. This is the closest the parties come in terms of vote share in two decades. [Click to view table]

Dhumal is still the most popular bet for chief minister; Virbhadra in the run despite graft allegations.

The survey, with a sample size of 2014, was conducted across 119 polling stations in 30 assembly segments in Himachal Pradesh between 14 October and 21 October.

Forty percent of the respondents feel the Dhumal government should get a repeat mandate while 34 percent felt against it. However, the key to the final result could be the 26 percent who were undecided. Chief Minister Dhumal is still the most popular chief minister candidate with 34 percent of the respondents backing him. Congress’s Virbhadra Singh, despite the corruption taint, comes a close second with 33 percent backing him.

Shanta Kumar and Vijay Singh Mankotia come distant with two and one percent of the respondents backing them respectively. Dhumal scores high among voters of West Himachal and among Rajputs - 43 percent and 38 per cent respectively - while Virbhadra retains his popularity in East Himachal (38) and among the SC (37) community. Among the Brahmins, the BJP is way ahead than the Congress, while other upper castes remain divided between the two nearly equally.

Dhumal’s popularity, the survey shows, has been on the upswing since 2007. [Click to view table] His popularity in the top job has shifted from 25 to 34 percent in the last five years, while that of Virbhadra has declined from 40 percent to 33 percent. The rising popularity graph of Dhumal coincides with the gradual decline of BJP stalwart Shanta Kumar as a force. Among the Muslims and the STs the Congress holds the edge but among OBCs and SCs it’s too close to call.

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