Several journalists and election-watchers have already started predicting victories based on their ideologies. These predictions are no better than straw polls or gut feel. There are, however, a few clear trends that have emerged in the elections in Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and to a lesser extent, in Goa.
Candidates and political parties
The media — broadcast television, at least — prefers to lump in every bit of coverage based on what the president or leaders of political parties are saying at various rallies. Their cameras pan over huge crowds and they capture the choicest soundbites from the speeches. This is their way of covering elections — crowds and stars, but it gives very little insight to the voters. The voters cannot seek any fresh information from the English language dailies either as they are also obsessed with leaders. Only Indian language dailies go into the details of each candidate at the constituency-level. The debate and discussion is at candidate-level and not about the parties. While political parties will try to create or build a wave of momentum, it is not happening across the state.
The nuance that is lost is that this time around in Uttar Pradesh particularly, there has been a cross-fertilisation of candidates from the Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) into the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). There are at least 38 former or current MLAs from the BSP who are fighting on a BJP ticket. There are 14 such former or current Congress MLAs again fighting on BJP tickets, in addition to eight from the Samajwadi Party and seven from the Rashtriya Lok Dal. In all, there are 75 constituencies where tickets have been given to a person who did not contest the elections on a BJP ticket in the past. The rationale for handing out these tickets is that these candidates have a higher chance of winning as they have won this seat earlier. This is ostensibly based on a series of four surveys conducted by the BJP in every constituency. Some of these surveys were carried out by RSS functionary in the areas.
The selection of candidates differs in major parties. Congress depends upon the wisdom of its senior leadership more than any other party as it has poor network on the ground. Due to recent fissures, the Samajwadi Party depended on the cohort or caucus around Akhilesh Yadav and older members of the party were not engaged. In the BSP, it is the decision of Mayawati, who is ably supported by a team and has the largest number of Muslim candidates in the fray, that counts.
Noise from the leadership has to be distinguished from the voice on the ground. This is where the management at the booth-level comes to the fore.
Booths and constituents
The successive rise in the voting percent in all the phases suggest that people have come out to vote and this may well turn out to be the biggest election in terms of votes cast and total electorate. This is crucial as the data in past elections has always shown that the winning party can sweep the elections with a margin of four to five percent of the votes. In the last election, the Samajwadi Party won 224 seats with a vote share of 29.15 percent, while the BSP got 80 seats with a vote share of 25.91 percent. A difference of 3.36 percent between the first and second party made a difference of 144 seats. This was at a time when the BJP got 47 seats with a 15 percent vote share and the Congress got 27 seats with a vote share of 11.63 percent.
The trend that is clear at this stage is that there is an anti-incumbency factor at work against the Samajwadi Party, while its alliance partner, the Congress is hobbled by the lack of a ground network. The BJP seems to be party that every other party is fighting against. It is the BJP at one end and the strongest candidate from one of the other parties on the other end. This is the reason people have begun predicting a victory for BJP in the state. As I said earlier, if the top two rungs are defined, 50 to 60 percent share of the votes are divided among the two top candidates with low margins of difference; statistical models cannot predict such polls. This trend is also clear that both SP and BSP are attacking BJP and not each other, their leadership knows intuitively that it is not a tripartite fight.
Another facet of this election is the failure of predictive models. Most statistical models rely on a sample and can have a margin of error ranging from 95 to 99 percent in a state like Uttar Pradesh, where the victory margins are usually three to four percent. Which means that the margin of error is more than victory margin, making the result difficult to predict. Hence, better predictive models will have to be created covering every constituency, all 403 of them. And this is something no one, except the political parties, appear to have the resources to do. The only models that will work in such an environment are those that will assume a swing for or against BJP constituency-wise. This is because all the other parties seem to be fighting the BJP.
If the BJP is already part of the top-two of the decision matrix of voters, it will get a higher voter share than it did last time, when it was third in the decision matrix. This is something that the voters on the ground also grasp intuitively as they do not want to waste their vote. A voter always wants to claim that he/she gave his vote to the winning candidate.
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Updated Date: Mar 09, 2017 18:06 PM