Too early to proclaim a revival in the BJP’s Kerala fortunes

In a previous blog post, we considered the possibility that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s strong performance in the Aruvikkara assembly constituency by-election marked the beginning of its revival in the state of Kerala. A closer examination of BJP leader O Rajagopal’s previous election record suggests that this by-election result is a one-off, rather than the beginning of the BJP’s statewide ascent.

Recall that the BJP’s vote share in Aruvikkara doubled from 12% in the 2014 general election to 24% now, which eroded the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPM)’s vote share and helped the Indian National Congress (INC) retain the seat with 40% of the vote.

This is similar to what occurred three years ago in the Neyyattinkara assembly constituency (that lies within the Thiruvananthapuram parliamentary constituency), where the BJP’s Athiyannoor Sreekumar had won 6% of the votes cast in the April 2011 state election (pdf). When the victorious CPM candidate R Selvaraj resigned and switched over to the INC, the BJP decided to field its veteran Rajagopal in the ensuing June 2012 by-election (xls). As a result, the BJP’s vote share soared to 23%, the LDF’s fell 14 percentage points to 35% and the UDF won despite a drop in its tally from 43% to 40%.

Sound familiar? Clearly, it would be premature to proclaim the beginning of the BJP’s ascent in Kerala.

Note also that national politics appear to have had no discernible effect in this assembly constituency: the vote shares of the three party blocs were substantially unchanged in the 2014 general election, two full years later.

The Congress should thank the BJP for its Aruvikkara assembly win

Shortly before the counting of votes in Kerala’s Aruvikkara assembly by-election, Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPM) state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan make the startling claim that the entry into the contest of veteran Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader O Rajagopalan had made it difficult for his party to unseat the incumbent Indian National Congress (INC).

He was right. The INC (or rather, the INC-led United Democratic Front) won 40% of votes cast, the same percentage as it had in the 2014 general election. The CPM-led Left Democratic Front that had won 43% of the vote in 2014 got only 33% this time. The BJP’s tally however doubled from 12% to 24%, with most of the gains coming from the CPM, which ensured the INC’s victory. Had the voting pattern of the general election been repeated, the CPM would have triumphed over the INC.

BJP supporters were naturally jubilant.

Still, it may be a bit early to pop the gau-champagne. The BJP’s Rajagopalan is one of a handful of credible leaders in the party’s state unit, and had previously given a tough fight to the INC’s Shashi Tharoor in Thiruvananthapuram in 2014. It remains to be seen whether this result is a flash in the pan, or the start of a bigger shift in votes towards the BJP.

A real shift could well facilitate the UDF’s reelection in 2016, as the BJP’s rise divides the opposition vote statewide. As the following chart shows, Hindu voters have long leaned towards the LDF in Kerala, while Muslim and Christian voters have coalesced around the UDF.

If the BJP continues to gain support among, for instance, Ezhava voters, it could fragment the LDF’s vote base even as the latter attempts to take advantage of any anti-incumbency against the UDF. In both Kerala and West Bengal, the rise of the BJP is posing a severe challenge for the CPM and its allies.

Update on Jul 1

On reflection, it would appear that the Aruvikkara result has little to say about the BJP’s wider prospects in Kerala. Click here for why.

The Delhi election is a dead heat

A simple average of the five most recent opinion polls shows that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) are locked in a dead heat in the 2015 Delhi state election, with a projected 40% share of the vote each.

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There is considerable variation among the five polls in terms of the vote gap between the two parties.

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The chart above shows that the BJP is 4-5 percentage points ahead of the AAP in the India TV-Cvoter and India Today-Cicero polls, but 3-6 points behind in the other three polls.

How to judge? As the chart below shows, in 2013 ABP News-Nielsen and India TV-Cvoter came the closest to estimating the relative vote shares of the BJP and AAP (using the “Mosteller 5” method, explained here); CNN IBN-CSDS did even better but are not conducting a pre-election poll this year.

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And what do those two agencies together project in 2015? A vote gap in favour of the BJP of -4 and 5 percentage points, respectively, which more or less cancel each other out. Which is why even a weighted average (by past poll accuracy) of the five polls results in — you guessed right — a dead heat.

Running to stand still

The Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) continues to advance in the opinion polls.  The NDTV-Hansa survey projects a majority for the alliance if elections were held in March:

The CNN-IBN-CSDS-The Week election tracker is more cautious in its forecast, but has also projected a 20-seat improvement in the NDA’s seats tally over the past two months:

This is a good time to revisit the argument I made two months ago in Why you should ignore opinion poll seat projections. I had written that “Indian public opinion polls are much better at predicting party vote shares than they are at extrapolating to seats won in parliament or state assemblies… because vote shares translate into seats in an unpredictable way under India’s multiparty “first-past-the-post” electoral system.

So what does the latest vote share data tell us?

The NDTV-Hansa poll shows that the NDA has increased its vote share by 4.4 percentage points between February and April 2014, while the Indian National Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) has slipped 1.2 percentage points:

The CNN-IBN-CSDS-The Week poll projects that the NDA vote share has risen one percentage point and the UPA vote share has fallen by a similar amount:

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If we assume a margin of error of 3%, this signifies no real change in the two alliances’ relative positions. In other words, the NDA’s advantage over the UPA has neither grown nor diminished in any concrete sense over the past two months.

No obvious correlation between turnout and anti-incumbency

Voter turnout in the first three rounds of India’s general election has shown a distinct increase by historical standards, particularly in some of the more populous states.

This has given rise to speculation that this is bad news for the incumbent United Progressive Alliance (UPA).

The UPA is clearly trailing in opinion polls, but this does not mean that a high turnout is necessarily bad news for the alliance. The chart below shows no obvious relationship between voter turnout and the level of anti-incumbency in Indian elections.

turnout and vote

That said, the turnout figures for Bihar and Uttar Pradesh are striking, and it will be worth watching whether they persist in subsequent rounds of voting in those states. This could be good news for the NDA if the increases are being driven by younger voters who — opinion polls show — are leaning towards the Narendra Modi-led alliance.

But if they are being driven by women (as occurred in the 2013 state elections) this could offer some relief to the UPA. Although the UPA performed poorly in those elections, both the CNN IBN-CSDS-Lokniti-The Week (see tables 3a and 3c) and NDTV-Hansa Research Group polls show that the female vote nationwide is divided equally between it and the NDA, while the male vote is decisively tilting in favour of the NDA.

Rush to judgement

The Association of Democratic Reforms has analysed 280 of 469 Lok Sabha candidates announced by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Indian National Congress (INC) and discovered that:

The data do not seem to be up as yet on the ADR website, so here is quick breakdown by party using the numbers quoted in news reports:

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It would appear that the proportion of candidates with criminal cases in 2014 has gone up in comparison with 2009 — from a fourth to close to a third. The INC’s proportion stays constant at 27% but the BJP’s seems to have risen by 7 percentage points to 35%.

But don’t race to any conclusions until parties have declared all their candidates. We don’t know the basis on which the sample of 280 candidate affidavits was chosen, and that too from a partial list of 469 candidate declarations. The two biggest parties together had 833 candidates standing for election to the Lok Sabha last time.

How opinion polls fared in the last two general elections

As more and more opinion polls hit the headlines, it’s worth recalling how they fared in the two most recent general elections:

2004

2009

Note: The figures in parentheses under the NDA and UPA columns are the respective seat tallies of the BJP and Congress Party.

Political parties’ Facebook activity

In response to my post on Political parties’ Facebook “likes”, Pragya Tiwari correctly pointed out that an additional flaw in that measure is the likelihood that parties and politicians purchase “likes”, and that people “talking about this” might be a less manipulable figure.

So here is some data (an evening’s snapshot on Mar 1):

Politicians here appear to attract more chatter than political parties, although we don’t know what people are saying. No doubt there are commercial tools available to figure that out, and I’d be interested in getting such data were it to be available.