Faux punditry grossly undermines intelligence of ordinary voters: Why experts missed the mark in Bihar

Call it the irony of being Lalu Prasad. He wins 80 seats with an enviable strike rate. His party, the Rashtriya Janata Dal has the biggest presence in Bihar assembly. If elections are all about winning and losing, he has won in a thumping manner. And he was not even contesting. Still, scorn and ridicule is all he gets.

In certain circles he is being treated with the same disdain that he was subjected to by rivals during the long campaign. While none of this is going to change his existential reality, or impact his political stature, the approach towards him is a bit perplexing. No, this piece is not about how he was singled out for attack and how he got even with his rivals, it’s about the big gap between the reality of Indian electoral politics at the ground level and how it is perceived far away. His case is only a reference point.

If the huge chasm between opinion and exit poll results and the actual result in successive elections gives the impression that the former have been dealing with voters in some other planet, well, that’s possibly the case. When a survey with as many 70,000 respondents gets it all wrong, there ought to be questions, the most important being are we approaching voters with pre-set notions conceived too far away from the scene of action? Put in another way, do we impose on them questions that we think are relevant to them?

 Faux punditry grossly undermines intelligence of ordinary voters: Why experts missed the mark in Bihar

Screengrab.

Poll punditry, as we see in India, involves gross underestimation of the intelligence of the ordinary voter. It is generally believed that people make their choice based on two months of high decibel campaign. The entire five years that precede the polls become wholly redundant. Of course, they are such fools that any campaign rhetoric can instantly influence their choice.

When Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a Rs 1.65 lakh crore package for Bihar just before the elections, it was believed that it was a game-changer and that Chief Minister Nitish Kumar had no answer to it. When beef made its grand arrival on the poll scene, studio pundits predicted sharp polarization on communal lines. It turned out to be a non-issue.

After RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat made his quota comment, it was said that he had given the election to the Mahagathbandhan on a platter. A good look into the numbers in the first and second phases, after which the remark was made, and the rest three phases indicates no sharp inconsistency in the voting pattern that remained steadily against the NDA. The RSS itself has pointed out that Bhagwat’s view on quota had made no impact on voters.

They all thought Nitish by allying himself with Lalu had burdened himself with a huge baggage. Didn’t Lalu preside over a lawless state for 15 years, which was described his political opponents as ‘Jungle Raj’? NDA’s campaign revolved around this theme. Pundits said it was brilliant as electoral strategy. If Nitish loses it will be because of, and solely because of Lalu. The results, of course, tell a different story. When they attended Modi’s rallies in large numbers and responded to him enthusiastically, it was taken as an unmistakable sign of their support for his party and the NDA. His strike rate – number of people at the rally to votes gained - does not bear that out.

Now, while the experts were deciding how the common people would respond to various talking points, they were thinking on their own. It’s obvious that they had there own understanding of development, performance of the chief minister, the cow and beef debate, caste matters and everything else. Given how the caste numbers stack up in the state and the intra-caste divisions, it’s absolutely lazy analysis to attribute losses and victories to caste arithmetic only. Surely, there are many other factors at play, many of which have to do with their everyday realities.

The gap between how the common people vote and how the pundits think they vote is wide indeed. That explains why most of them invariably end up looking foolish after every election. Perhaps it’s time they called themselves entertainers, not experts. Better still, they learn to respect the sharpness of the common man a little more. Didn’t they keep Lalu out of power for ten years? If they chose his party over others this time, what’s the point saying they made a bad choice - the criticism of hints at that?

The faux punditry must end at some point.

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Updated Date: Nov 14, 2015 19:23:21 IST