UP 2022: Times Now-Polstrat Opinion Poll Analysis; Here's What The Survey Fails To Capture
As per the Times Now-Polstrat survey NDA is projected to receive 42 per cent of the popular vote which translates to a median of 242 seats out of 403 in the forthcoming UP assembly elections.
But as this analysis will show, this survey fails to capture some ground realities.
A new, detailed opinion poll, on the prospects of political parties in the forthcoming Uttar Pradesh assembly elections, was released by Times Now-Polstrat this week. It forecasts a comfortable return of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and sitting Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath.
These are the survey’s findings:
The NDA is projected to receive 42 per cent of the popular vote, which translates to a median of 242 seats as per Times Now – 40 seats above the halfway mark in a house of 403.
Akhilesh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party (SP), which is supported mainly by Muslims and Yadavs, is expected to recover somewhat from its 2017 debacle, and become the principal opposition party.
Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), which once used to command the bulk of the Dalit vote, comes a distant third in this survey. Ajit Singh’s Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD), which was a favorite of the Jats of Western Uttar Pradesh, is expected to be wiped out once again. And the Congress Party, which ruled UP for decades, isn’t projected to reach double figures in either the seat or vote share tally.
How valid and representative is this survey?
The NDA won a thumping 325 seats in 2017 because of two reasons: one, the Muslim vote was split between the SP, the BSP and the Congress; and two, a majority of Dalits and Yadavs stayed loyal to the BSP and SP respectively. It is this trifurcation of votes gave the NDA an overwhelming mandate with barely 42 per cent of the popular vote. The Congress was nowhere in the fray, as usual.
This time round, the situation is markedly different. As the table below shows, the SP is expected to attract the bulk of the BSP’s Muslim vote base. The Times Now-Polstrat survey says that almost 10 per cent of the BSP’s 2017 votes are shifting to the SP.
As a result, the SP’s vote share is projected to leap from 22 to 33 per cent, while that of the BSP nearly halves. So what was once a four-way split, between the Congress, SP, BSP and BJP, is gradually becoming a two-way contest between the SP and the BJP.
So, prima facie, a survey giving 122 seats to the SP with a third of the vote share seems legitimate, since there could be a clustering of wins in step with the demographic spread (which is a polite way of saying that if the SP is basing its prospects on the rank identity vote, then yes, it will get more seats because of the concentration of its vote banks).
However, one aspect which the survey probably doesn’t capture just yet is the counter-consolidation effect; if Akhilesh Yadav is going to try and flagrantly corral the Muslim vote by praising Jinnah, as he has, he should also rest assured that such tactics will alienate a section of his core non-Muslim vote base.
That departing vote would most probably go to the BJP, since it is outlandish to imagine a bulk Yadav vote shift to the BSP, the RLD or the Congress (who are all so intensely compartmentalised into non-Yadav identity vote blocs of their own, that they would repel any such departures).
Coming to the BSP, a projected decline in its vote share from 22 to 12 per cent appears both plausible and representative of ground shifts. Mayawati is no longer the force she once was, and it is doubtful if the Muslim vote would remain with her.
But, there are two contradictions in the survey which merit flagging: first, a rise in the BSP’s possible seat tally from 19 to 30, while its vote share halves (in a still multi-pronged contest), seems improbable; second, while we can understand a shift of about 9-10 per cent of the BSP’s vote to the SP, what doesn’t gel in the survey findings, is the absence of any similar vote shift to the BJP.
This is because there was a distinct, elemental shift of Dalit votes from the BSP to the BJP in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, which was not a one-off affair, and which has to be reflected to some extent (even by a few percentage points), if we are to accept the survey as fairly representative.
For the record, Swarajya noted this issue in the September 2021 ABP-CVoter survey as well, where, too, votes were projected to shift from the BSP to the SP, but not from the BSP to the BJP. This is not how UP electoral dynamics works, so projecting that the BSP’s seat tally will rise while its vote share halves is a near-electoral impossibility without some sort of seat-sharing (not declared at the moment).
The Congress is expected to plough a lonely furrow. Its leader, Priyanka Vadra, who is in charge of the party’s fortunes in UP, recently announced that they would be going it alone in 2022. The survey reflects this marginalisation by giving them just 8 per cent of the vote share, and a maximum of eight seats.
While the Congress is not expected to make any waves on its own, the question to be asked is: if they are contesting alone, then what would the index of opposition unity be?
Commenting in September 2021 on the ABP survey, this writer concluded that “if the index of opposition unity is even slightly less than 100 per cent, the highest probability is that the BJP would sweep Uttar Pradesh again”. Therefore, Vadra’s decision to contest the UP assembly elections alone means that this conclusion remains valid – to the benefit of the BJP – and, that her theatrics of the past two years will come to naught.
Turning to western UP, Jats and the RLD, the survey shows this force to be all but absent from the fray. We can assume that they might pick up the odd seat or two through alliances (although they had to borrow a candidate from the SP for a recent by-poll), but the RLD is finished for all practical purposes.
Now, it may not seem that way in cyberspace, where loyalists aggressively plug the twin narrative, of Jats being upset with the BJP, and of an RLD wave. As a colleague at Swarajya put it, this same refrain gets stirred up every time there is an election in UP, but since 2014, the outcome has been a BJP sweep. And the last time the words ‘RLD’ and ‘wave’ were used in the same sentence, Gary Lineker was still playing for England.
So, serious analysts will have to accept that a Jat-Muslim axis, which had kept parties like the RLD going for so long, was broken by the Muzaffarnagar riots of 2013. The electoral implication is that, even if a narrative is sought to be built up by the usual suspects, to try and reconstruct such old, politically profitable community alliances, the voter isn’t buying.
Besides, if indeed the Jats were angry with the BJP, why does the survey show an increase in the BJP’s vote share (albeit only by 0.5 per cent), instead of a reduction?
And with that we come to the BJP. The Times Now-Polstrat survey says that BJP and the NDA will win a simple majority of around 242 seats, with a 42 per cent vote share – about the same as it got in 2017. That’s 83 seats down from last time.
But here’s the problem: these figures have been calculated on the assumption that the BJP’s vote share remains stuck at around 42 per cent, votes don’t shift from the BSP or the SP to the BJP, and that the Muslim vote arrays neatly under the SP banner.
What the survey probably doesn’t adequately capture is a resultant counter-consolidation, the reduced index of opposition unity courtesy the Congress contesting alone, a visible, ongoing, pan-Indian supra-caste consolidation under the BJP, its myriad alliances with small community-based parties like that of Anupriya Patel, or the Nishads, the damage that could be done to opposition prospects by Asaduddin Owaisi, plus his call for Muslims to vote along identity lines alone, and most importantly, the fact that the BJP got over 50 per cent of the vote share in the 2019 general elections.
Are we to believe that the BJP would suffer a 10 per cent decline in vote share from 2019 (even if we assume that people vote differently in state and national elections)? If we do so, then we contradict ourselves on the point of an ongoing supra-caste surge. It has to be one or the other, and not both at the same time.
Therefore, if we factor all this in, the conclusion is that the BJP’s present vote share, along with its vote-to-seat conversion ratio, is being under-estimated by surveys (this writer’s own base estimates put the NDA vote share in the 43-45 per cent band); which means that the BJP would, in higher probability, end up getting far more than the 242 seats the Times Now-Polstrat survey gives it presently.
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