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2019 Opinion Poll: What Yogendra Yadav Gets Wrong About BJP

It started with a fun-tweet at my end, joking with Prof Yogenadra Yadav that he doesn’t take @cvoterindia’s numbers seriously. I interjected in a conversation between Dr Sanjay Kumar of CSDS and Prof Yadav. Dr Sanjay disagrees with Prof Yadav in his assessment (or rather assertion) that BJP’s fortunes are taking a nosedive in the run up to the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.

Different Surveys Can Have Different Projections

Shekhar Gupta, in the “spirit of healthy disagreement”, asked for a debate between “two brilliant psephologists” aiming for a @YogendraYadav and @sanjaycsds conversation. Now, the only way to get myself counted among the greats, was to jostle in, to bask in the reflected glory of great minds, ones that I deeply respect. Shekhar ji, being a gentleman, amicably replied, and I wasn’t going to let go of this opportunity.

It is normal for different agencies to come up with different numbers, particularly for seats.

The recent CVoter Tracker in MP/Chhattisgarh/Rajasthan shows similar voting trends like the CSDS surveys, with some differences in seat share projections. In MP/Chhattisgarh seat share projections the CVoter tracker is projecting a slender Congress lead, and a massive Congress sweep in Rajasthan.

The CSDS numbers were positive for a BJP majority in MP/Chattisgarh and a normal victory for Congress in Rajasthan.

This is understandable as the vote shares in both studies are within close range, and the FPTP (first past the post) system inherently does not have any direct correlation of votes polled and seats won by any party. The thumb rule says, the party with more votes will get more seats, but in FPTP, even that rule goes for a toss.

What Happens When Opinion Polls Greatly Differ?

However, when the difference in assessments between poll pundits is not a marginal one, it sure calls for a detailed dissection to ascertain if we are talking about the same universe. In that light, this debate is important and interesting. To cut a long story short, you can read the full analysis by Yogendra Yadav on “Why BJP is staring at a loss of nearly 100 seats from 2014 tally” here.

When what started as a joke became serious (during my Twitter “intervention”), I said I am game. Yadav replied:

“Great. So, for clarity’s sake, can we break the dialogue into 4 Qs: 1. Likely gains for BJP in the east followed by 2. Likely losses for BJP in west + south; 3. Likely losses for BJP in UP and finally 4. Likely losses for BJP in rest of Hindi belt. Feel free to change/challenge.”

I have written my series in the same format that Yadav suggested, just that I feel the second part should be split into two separate debates for west and south individually, so that the readers get a clear picture about each state in detail.

Likely Gains for BJP in East

Yadav: The east offers the BJP its only growth possibility over 2014. It won 11 seats in this entire region and thus, has room to grow. All credible polls indicate that its support base is growing in Odisha at the expense of the Congress, and in Bengal at the expense of the Left Front.

The BJP has followed the old Congress strategy of merger and acquisition to register unprecedented growth in the northeast. The BJP will be a force to reckon with in east India.

The only question is whether it can convert its additional votes into additional seats this election. As of now, the BJP appears to have crossed that threshold in Odisha, but not in Bengal. It may overtake the Left to emerge as the runner-up in Bengal, but it is still way short of challenging Mamata Banerjee’s hegemony. It cannot grow more in Assam but is likely to pick additional seats in the hill states of the northeast. All in all, the BJP may pick up to 20 additional seats from this region.

Upswing from Regional Parties

(Yours Truly) Yashwant Deshmukh (YD): Agree with the observations. Our latest tracker this month shows a gain of 24 seats for the BJP in this region. Not far off from 20 additional seats that Yadav is indicating. For these detailed inputs, I am putting in all the updated data for each state in the east zone. Prof. Yadav has raised an extremely important point while stating that the BJP will be a force to reckon with in East India. He is absolutely correct in raising doubts that the massive upswing of votes for BJP in the eastern zone may not end in equally “massive” addition to its seats tally. This is very much possible.

Just look at the vote shares. As Prof Yadav has focused more on “seats”, I would like to focus more on “votes”, just to give some context on why we are agreeing on certain things, and vice versa.

In May 2014, the NDA had polled just about 19 percent in this zone, and as of 16 November, our tracker data is indicating a massive 12 percent upswing, taking the BJP vote share to almost 36 percent in this zone. Classically, this upswing is not coming from the Congress kitty, which is retaining its approximately 19 percent vote share in this zone.

This upswing is coming from regional parties, most notably the CPI (M) (which has been reduced to a regional party) in West Bengal, and the BJD in Odisha.

A small portion of these votes is coming from NDA allies in NEDA, which constitutes only 11 out of total 88 seats in this region. These 11 seats in 7 northeast states have only about 8 percent votes of the entire eastern region. The remaining 92 percent electorate is spread across 3 major states, namely West Bengal, Odisha and Assam, where BJP has arguably conjured up a massive upswing.

BJP’s Inroads In Bengal

While in Assam and Tripura the BJP has formed a government on its own, the tracker data shows something extraordinary happening in Odisha and West Bengal. In Odisha the BJP is polling almost 38 percent at the moment, significantly above the ruling BJD’s 33 percent. Certainly, BJP looks set to cross the ‘threshold’ of votes to convert that into seats in Odisha.

If the trend continues, it could deliver a Tripura or Assam-like punch, provided the BJP doesn’t give it back on a platter to BJD for realpolitik reasons. But the same can’t be said about West Bengal.

The state ruled by TMC is witnessing an extraordinary scenario, where CPI (M) and Congress are headed for a complete meltdown and their votes are polarising towards BJP, against Mamata Banerjee. So, the more bipolar it gets, the more likely it might end up helping TMC, simply because of arithmetic. Right now, the BJP is polling around 31 percent vote, while TMC is a full 10 points ahead with 41 percent votes. With further polarisation, it is very likely that Muslim voters in North Bengal would leave Congress and move to Mamata. The opposite would happen from Left Front towards the BJP.

But BJP May Not Cross Threshold in Bengal

If the trend continues in this manner, they may finally settle for 35 percent for BJP and 45 percent for TMC. Yes, the BJP would become the principal opposition to Mamata Banerjee in West Bengal, but will the 35 percent vote share result in seat conversion? Unlikely.

I fully agree with Prof Yadav here that in West Bengal, even with the massive upswing of votes, the BJP might not cross the threshold. It didn’t look likely as of 16 November. Our algorithm converts these votes into approximately 9 out of 42 seats for BJP in West Bengal, but it is highly probable that BJP might end up with a big zero even with a possible 35 percent vote share. In a bipolar contest, a gap of 10 percent votes is way too big to counter.

The real game changer could be a swing away from TMC though. The moment this gap starts reducing from 10 percent to 7 percent to 5 percent and so on, the number of seats for BJP could come in disproportionately. The reason for this is regional variation.

The TMC’s lead is not 10 percent across all the regions. We spotted this trend in the massive round of survey we did during the panchayat elections for Anandabazar Patrika, the highest-selling Bengali daily. From a mere 3 percent votes in 2013, the BJP shot to almost 27 percent votes during the panchayat elections, and the regional variations were staggering. The latest round of CVoter tracker only confirms that this trend has consolidated further.

TMC Accuses BJP of ‘Maoist Links’

Look at the TMC leads over the BJP across different regions. They are as large as 21 percent in north border regions, and 13 percent in deltaic regions, but crash down to about 5 percent in northern hills and just about 2 percent in southern plains. And in the highlands, the tables have turned already and TMC is trailing by about 3 percent behind BJP. Yes, you guessed it right, it is the same region that comprises areas like Jhargram and Purulia, where the TMC is accusing the BJP of joining hands with Maoists for electoral gains.

How much of that is true, I leave it to the readers, but I wonder if the BJP vote of 36 percent compared to TMC’s 38 percent in the southern plains, or 38:42 split in the northern hills also has anything to do with Maoists.

Just a couple of points swing from the Left Front to BJP in these areas, is bound to turn the tables. But if that doesn’t happen, then further polarisation of Muslim votes to TMC will increase the gap, and that would only mean just about 4 or 5 seats for BJP in the largest state of the east zone.

Good for TMC if BJP Grows in Bengal

Talking about probability, Mamata Banerjee could very well end up with a score line of 42-0 within the same vote share range. If the news about the sitting Congress MP from Malda, Mausam Noor joining the TMC gets confirmed, it will sound the final nail in the coffin for the West Bengal Congress unit. She is the niece of legendary Congress leader ABA Ghani Khan Choudhury, and it’s the Malda votes which form the majority of the 15 percent votes that Congress is picking up in the northern border region.

As TMC is already projected to poll almost 20 percent more than BJP in this region, with sole Congress MP projected to come from this region, if Mausam Noor joins TMC it will become one-way traffic for TMC.

Our data shows TMC leading in 7 out of total 8 seats in this region, and with Mausam Noor switching the sides, it will be 8-0 for TMC with well over 50 percent votes in this region.

This episode of West Bengal precisely exposes the equation of TMC and BJP. It is in TMC’s interest that BJP grows in West Bengal at the expense of Left Front while TMC eats up the entire Congress support base. This ensures the complete TMC sweep as on today. However, as Prof. Yadav talked about the ‘threshold’, I would like to draw your attention to the fact that this threshold has already been breached in one region and on the verge of being breached in two more major regions of West Bengal.

TMC’s 10 % Lead Over BJP Not Evenly Distributed

If the TMC leadership thinks that their 10 percent lead over BJP is evenly distributed in entire state, they might be in for a rude shock. That shocker is just a 1 percent swing away in the southern plains and another 2.5 percent swing away in the northern hills, and at this moment, as many as 18 out of the 32 projected seats for TMC are coming from these two regions.

So, if I am openly underlining the huge probability of 42-0 score line for Mamata Banerjee in 2019, in all professional fairness, I must also underline the probability of 21-21 scorecard if there is even a slight further swing from Left Front to BJP in just two of the five regions in West Bengal.

Else, my current estimate of BJP gaining 24 seats in the eastern region is more or less the same as Yadav’s estimate of 20+ seats gain for the saffron party.

(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.)