Bengal Elections Now Depend On Just One Thing: Leadership Ratings

Subhash Chandra and Suryakiran Tiwari

Apr 05, 2016, 02:58 PM | Updated 02:58 PM IST

Mamata Banerjee (Subhankar Chakraborty/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)
Mamata Banerjee (Subhankar Chakraborty/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)
      On most issues, there is little to differentiate the TMC from the Left – except popularity of their leaders.
      All elections since the last Lok Sabha elections have been decided by the popularity of alliance leaders.
      Mamata Banerjee seems more popular than Suryakanta Mishra, but that could be affected by allegations of corruption and the Kolkata flyover collapse.

The West Bengal election is emerging as a fascinating contest between the Trinamool Congress (TMC) and the Left Front. The Left has entered into an alliance with Congress to stop the Mamata juggernaut, even at the cost of putting at risk its prospects in Kerala. With the Left ruling in just one state and the Congress losing states steadily, it’s a do-or-die battle for both, to survive and remain relevant.

Our research seems to suggest that on most issues, there is little to differentiate the TMC from the Left. While the Left accuses the TMC of ‘dadagiri’, most voters also have bad memories of ‘dadagiri’ during the era of Left dominance in Bengal. Both accuse each other of “bogus voting” to win polls. Polling in West Bengal has been abnormally high at 1.3 times the national average in the last three Lok Sabha polls. The Left accuses the TMC of having failed on providing jobs, but in 2011, the Left government left Bengal with the worst unemployment rate in the country. Only on corruption does the Left Front government do better than the TMC, but the twin TMC programs for Kanyasree and Sabooj Saathi even out the scales.

Leadership Ratings The Key Factor In All Elections Since Lok Sabha 2014

Therefore, what remains is what we believe to be the most decisive issue in this election – who wins head to head between Mamata Banerjee and Suryakanta Mishra. Just before the Bihar election in November 2015, we had done a similar analysis in the Hindustan Times where we showed how Nitish Kumar’s edge in leadership would make it easier for the Grand Alliance to win the election in Bihar. In the end, apart from the comment on reservations and poor ground coordination, the Nitish factor played a decisive role in determining the winner of the Bihar election.

Not just Bihar; all elections since the last Lok Sabha elections have witnessed a similar trend:

  • Narendra Modi maintained a clear lead of over 20 percent against his nearest rival Rahul Gandhi during the entire campaign (CSDS)
  • In Maharashtra, BJP leaders in the aggregate (Fadnavis and Gadkari) had a lead of 6 percent over Prithviraj Chauhan (ABP-Nielsen)
  • In Jharkhand, BJP leaders in the aggregate (Arjun Munda, Yashwant Sinha and Raghuvar Das) enjoyed a massive 59 percent lead over Hemant Soren (ABP-Nielsen)
  • In Jammu and Kashmir, Mufti Mohammed Sayeed was at the top of the leadership charts with 53 percent votes (India Today-CVoter)
  • In Delhi, Kejriwal was ahead of his nearest rival Kiran Bedi by 27 percent votes (CSDS)
  • In Bihar, the net likeability rating of Nitish Kumar was even ahead of Prime Minister Modi (CSDS)
  • In the Haryana polls, the Chief Ministerial candidate was not an issue as many people (36 percent) didn’t name anybody when asked about their preferred choice for Chief Minister (CSDS); out of this segment, 41 percent voted for BJP

Mamata Maintains Solid Lead Over Mishra In Bengal

In Bengal, the evidence is not looking good for the Left-Congress alliance, according to our recent survey conducted in early March.

On the key issue of leadership, when asked “who is the best candidate for Chief Minister of West Bengal”, an overwhelming 56 percent of the voters chose Mamata Banerjee as the preferred candidate, while only 30 percent chose Mishra as the preferred candidate. The data seems to suggest that only hardcore Left voters have chosen Mishra. Most BJP and Congress supporters also think that Mamata is a better option than Mishra.

Mamata Banerjee has an overwhelming lead over Suryakanta Mishra
Mamata Banerjee has an overwhelming lead over Suryakanta Mishra

The problem for Mishra is that he trails Mamata on most issues. On the key attributes of ability to deliver, likeability and trust, Mamata leads by over 20 points. Only on treating all communities equally and people-centric policies does the gap narrow down to less than 20 percentage points. But this is no consolation, given that the gap is still more than 10 points.

We have not seen any research in recent times which shows that a party has won an election even as the net sum of its leader’s ratings is significantly lower than the leadership ratings of the main opponent. This trend is clearer since the Lok Sabha elections of 2014, as shown above.

Mamata scores higher than Mishra on all parameters in the survey
Mamata scores higher than Mishra on all parameters in the survey

Further, it is impossible to sustain a vote share significantly higher than your leader’s ratings, as many voters would defect in favour of the preferred leader’s party. In case of Bengal, it is likely that at the very last minute, many Congress and BJP voters are likely to swing to the TMC instead of voting for the Left-Congress alliance, simply because they prefer Mamata to Suryakanta Mishra and the BJP lacks a face.

Mamata’s Handling Of The Flyover Accident Has Provided Hope To Mishra

A flyover right in the heart of Kolkata collapsed two days ago, killing 26 people and injuring hundreds. This unfortunately presents an opportunity to the Left and the BJP to target Mamata over rampant corruption in her rank and file. Following the Saradha chit fund scam and the Narada bribery case, the TMC government has now dillydallied on action against IVRCL (the builder) when the same has been blacklisted elsewhere in the country, including by the Railways. The Telegraph has published a piece  demonstrating linkages between TMC elements and the construction in Kolkata.

Most other polls are predicting a close contest at least from a vote share perspective. Could this incident have the same impact as the impact of the comment on reservations by Mohan Bhagwat during the Bihar election? A two to three percent swing would effectively limit the Mamata regime to a single term in Bengal.

Either way, the large leadership gap alone could cause a massive landslide in favour of the TMC in 2016. With a huge gap in ratings and elections approaching quickly, time is running out fast for Suryakanta Mishra from preventing a TMC landslide.

Get Swarajya in your inbox.