Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah was pitted against Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Decoding Karnataka Verdict: Siddaramaiah, Not Congress, Was a Hero

TheQuintOpinion

As Karnataka slips away from the hand of Congress, quite literally, it should come as no surprise. The following survey had predicted this verdict by accurately, capturing the mood of Karnataka’s voters. It showed a clear dip in the Congress’s popularity while Siddaramaiah remained a force to reckon with.

Here’s a look back at what may have been the reason for the Congress’ defeat.

Is Congress CM Siddaramaiah popular in Karnataka?

You bet he is.

While much anger has been directed at the sitting MLAs and the state government, the chief minister continues to enjoy popularity. On the other hand, even with a popular CM candidate, the BJP is unable to gain from the anti-incumbency sentiment, mostly because of extreme infighting within the rank and file of the party. The CM leads the pack in the popularity race as well.

In a poll on the most preferred candidate for the top slot, the sitting CM Siddaramaiah, had a clear edge. But the edge varies at the regional level, as the opposition candidate also happens to be a popular choice. Among Congress supporters, over 75 percent approve of Siddaramaiah, while the other Congress candidates don’t even reach double digits in their approval ratings. No surprise that the House of Congress looks undivided and has accepted the popular face of Siddaramaiah’s leadership in the run-up to the polls.

(Photo: Rahul Gupta / The Quint)

However, Siddaramaiah’s lead in the popularity chart in Karnataka is not as huge as the startling lead of Modi on the PM popularity chart. In short, the Congress CM may be popular, but the runner-up CM candidate of BJP is not too far behind. It is not a one-way traffic as seen in national level popularity charts.

Is the Congress government as popular as Siddaramaiah in Karnataka?

Absolutely not. Even after the support of OBC, Dalits and minorities, the concern is mounting about the anti-incumbency swelling at the micro-level against the sitting MLAs and sitting ministers. So, the million-dollar question is, can the popularity of the chief minister at the macro-level offset the anger building against the MLAs and ministers at the micro level? If yes, then we are looking at the Congress returning to power in the state. If it doesn’t work that way, we are probably looking at a change in Karnataka’s power equations.

(Photo: Rahul Gupta / The Quint)
(Photo: Rahul Gupta / The Quint)

Are Karnataka voters angrier at Centre than at the Karnataka government?

No. The anti-incumbency is building up more at the state level than at the local or central level. Given a chance, more people claim that they would rather change the state government than any other level of governance. The anti-incumbency index is 58 percent against the state government when compared to 27 percent against the Centre or 15 percent against the local level of governance. When one decodes the state levels further, it is very clear that the maximum anger is aimed at sitting MLAs and the government machinery, and is at a minimum against the sitting chief minister. This is a very unique situation in which the CM is considered way better than the government he is heading.

Decoding Karnataka Verdict: Siddaramaiah, Not Congress, Was a Hero

Will rural Karnataka save Congress from anti-incumbency?

Yes. The data suggests so. It’s the lead in rural areas that is combating the anti-incumbency sentiment against the Congress. More people in the countryside feel connected with the Congress than the BJP. In the meantime, urban Karnataka is giving the BJP a better lead. Equally interesting is the lead on migration patterns. Among the “stationed” voters, the Congress has a considerable lead of 36 percent as compared to the BJP’s 30 percent. But it is actually the lead among the “migrated” voters which is channelising the anti-incumbency. Among the migrated voters, the BJP has a healthy lead of 40 percent as compared to Congress’ 27 percent. Needless to say, the majority of migrated voters happen to be in the urban areas of the state.

Decoding Karnataka Verdict: Siddaramaiah, Not Congress, Was a Hero
Decoding Karnataka Verdict: Siddaramaiah, Not Congress, Was a Hero

Has Karnataka moved beyond traditional Vokkaliga/Lingayat caste-based voting equations?

Not really. The more the caste equations of Karnataka politics change, the more they remain the same. While 54 percent of Lingayat voters feel that they are closer to BJP with regard to their community issues, the majority of Vokkaliga voters (40 percent) say they feel closer to JD(S) than Congress or the BJP. However, the shot-in-the-arm for the Congress comes from the high level of support from OBC, SC and other minorities. While 44 percent of the OBCs say that they feel closer to the Congress, 45 percent of Dalits feel the same. An overwhelming majority of 62 percent of minorities favour the Congress. In short, Karnataka has moved “beyond” traditional Vokkaliga/Lingayat equation, but only to add OBCs in the mix by virtue of the current CM belonging to that community. Also, interestingly, the state government completed the first ever “Caste-Census” after 1932, and it has concluded that the Vokkaliga/Lingayat equation is not about 30 percent-plus votes, but about 20 percent-plus only. This has turned the political equation upside down.

Has the issue of ‘separate religion status’ for Lingayats helped the Congress ?

Not really. On the much-talked-about controversy of separate religion status for Lingayats, an overwhelming majority says Congress is NOT going to benefit from raising this issue, directly or indirectly. And this sentiment is cutting across the region. However, approximately one-third of Karnataka voters say that this controversy could yield great results for Congress. In fact, Lingayat voters are even more pessimistic on the political fallout than the non-Lingayat voters.

(Photo: Rahul Gupta / The Quint)

Has the Congress scored big-time on governance in Karnataka?

Absolutely not. This government scores a below average second division on the scale of governance parameters. Overall it scores less than 50 percent, covering 10 major parameters of governance. It scores lowest in “control on corruption” and second lowest in “state of law an order”. It scores just about “above average” in water supply and public transportation. The only area where this government scores “first division” marks happens to be the “working of the chief minister”.

Decoding Karnataka Verdict: Siddaramaiah, Not Congress, Was a Hero

Is BS Yeddyurappa an asset or a liability for BJP?

He is an asset for the BJP. For the uninitiated, here is a fact: At the peak of his unpopularity when he was kicked out of the BJP, he floated his own party, contested alone, and still received more than 10 percent votes in the last assembly election. Thus, it is not without reason that Modi was forced to bring Yeddyurappa back before the 2014 election, because without BSY, the BJP is a non-starter in Karnataka.

While the Congress seems to have settled on the ‘face of their leadership’, it is the BJP that will give a one-way verdict in the face of overt infighting. When we asked the BJP voters who they would pick as the next CM of Karnataka, the verdict was one-way traffic, overwhelmingly in favour of Yeddyurappa. More than 72 percent of BJP voters confirmed his name as their choice and this support is across all the regions. The gap is so big that all other BJP candidates put together could get only about 12 percent support. Keeping these figures in mind, the infighting within the BJP looks absolutely mindless and self-defeating.

(Photo: Rahul Gupta / The Quint)

Is corruption no more an issue for Karnataka voters?

It is. The image of the Congress CM might be clean, but the same cannot be said about the state government. Every third Karnataka voter says that corruption is the biggest issue plaguing the state right now. Twenty-nine percent feel tha the  plight of farmers and drought issues are on top of their minds. Inflation and unemployment are critical for every 10th voter at the moment. While ‘corruption’ emerges as the biggest issue in Coastal Karnataka, it is the Central Karnataka region where the drought crisis is going to take its toll. Inflation could drive the sentiments in Greater Bangalore region while unemployment is critical to Hyderabad-Karnataka.

(Photo: Rahul Gupta / The Quint)

In the data over the last 52 weeks, corruption remains the biggest issue. Overall, the economic issues (including corruption) are taking the lead in public perception, as every second Karnataka voter is concerned about these. What should concern the Congress leadership is that, even after so much noise and campaigning against the BJP, it is still the BJP that is perceived as better equipped to fight corruption by 35 percent of voters, which is way more than the 19 percent support for Congress on this issue. In short, on the issue of corruption, the BJP as an institution is still scoring better than the Congress, in Karnataka.

Has Modi Sarkar become unpopular among Karnataka voters?

No. Regardless of what the social media narrative might be, there is still no significant anger building up against the Central government. Almost 2/3rds of Karnataka voters are more or less satisfied with the NDA government at the Centre. That has largely to do with the extreme popularity of the prime minister among the masses. Almost half of Karnataka voters say they are “very satisfied” with Modi, and another quarter says “satisfied to some extent”. Only 1 in 5 Karnataka voters says they are “not at all satisfied” with Modi.

(Photo: Rahul Gupta / The Quint)
(Photo: Rahul Gupta / The Quint)

However, the same cannot be said about the central leadership of the Congress. The perception about Congress head Rahul Gandhi is still a work in progress. His net approval rating still happens to be in negative of -24 percent. Compare this with the positive net approval ratings of Siddaramaiah, at +12 percent and one can understand why state leadership is a considerable “asset” when compared to the “liability” of central leadership. This contrast becomes starker due to central Congress leadership contesting with central BJP leadership.

(Photo: Rahul Gupta / The Quint)

Is Congress still perceived as ‘leading’ in Karnataka?

Yes, but the gap is closing.  For the last few years, the BJP has been leading the “perception-race” across India, but for a change, it is the Congress that is “seen” as leading the pack in Karnataka. Unlike all other states in the last 4 years when the BJP election machinery was always perceived as “sure-shot” winners all the way, a significant number of Karnataka voters feel Congress might win again.

All issues aside, the contest in Karnataka is wide open, and Congress is still seen as leading the pack with a slight edge over the BJP. In the regions of Central Karnataka, Greater Bangalore and Mumbai-Karnataka, the Congress is leading the perception race, while the BJP is perceived as the leading party in Hyderabad-Karnataka and Coastal Karnataka. In the Old Mysore region, the majority of voters feel that either JD(S) will form the government, or they would be the kingmaker no matter who forms the government. In fact, so fluid is the situation that every fourth voter in Karnataka cannot imagine a government without JD(S) being a part of it.

(Photo: Rahul Gupta / The Quint)

Last, but not least, the Congress campaign depended on three people for its potential victory: Siddaramaiah, Siddaramaiah and Siddaramaiah. The BJP campaign on the other hand, depended on three people for its much sought after victory: Modi, Modi, and Modi.

At the time of this survey, Modi was yet to begin his campaign.

*All data points mentioned in this analysis are taken from the CVoter Weekly tracker which is exclusively carried out for TV9-Kannada in Karnataka. This particular poll is a random probability sample as used in the globally standardized methodology. It is carried out by trained researchers across all assembly segments. This particular report is based on the tracking interviews of 40,000+ respondents over the last 52 weeks followed up by a detailed seat by seat snap poll of 20,000+ respondents across all segments in March 2018. The data is weighted to known census profile.

(The author is the founder-director, CVoter International. He tweets @YRDeshmukh. Views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

(This article was first published on 21 April 2018, and is being reposted from The Quint’s archives ahead of the Karnataka Assembly election results)

(The Quint is now on WhatsApp. To receive handpicked stories on topics you care about, subscribe to our WhatsApp services. Just go to TheQuint.com/WhatsApp and hit send)