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Opinion polls predict different results, contest wide open in UP
On Wednesday, the Election Commission announced dates for elections in 5 states on Wednesday. Uttar Pradesh is the most important of them all accounting for 15% of total Lok Sabha strength. A win here would bolster PM Modi's bid for second term in 2019. A loss here could well start the downfall in his popularity.

Meanwhile, two opinion polls have been published in the last two days - one by ABP-CSDS and the other by India Today-Axis. While CSDS predicts a hung assembly with SP as single largest party, Axis predicts a comfortable BJP win.

To recall, CSDS got it wrong in Bihar. In 1st week of October 2015 just before Phase I of Bihar polls, CSDS predicted NDA would get 42% and Mahagathbandhan 38%. Actual result was NDA 35% and Mahagathbandhan 43%. Axis predicted correct winner, Magathbandhan 46% (vs actual 43%) and NDA 38% (vs actual 35%). Past performance is no guarantee of future performance in opinion polls.

Major findings of the two surveys are very divergent except for leadership ratings where Akhilesh is ahead of Mayawati. Since BJP has not declared a CM candidate its leaders get low rating for most preferred CM. So two sets of polls carried out on same set of voters throws two different results. Only one of them would be correct.

  Particular       ABP-CSDS INDIA TODAY-AXIS
 No. of Seats    SP 146, BJP 134, BSP 98   SP 94, BJP 211, BSP 82  
 Vote Share SP 30%, BJP 27%, BSP 22%  SP 26%, BJP33%, BSP 26%
 Leadership Rating Akhilesh 28%, Maya 21%   Akhilesh 33%, Maya 25%      

Note: Surveys have predicted a range, here mid-point of ranges have been shown.

Internationally, 2016 was a tough year for polling industry. Pollsters got Brexit and US elections wrong. In India, half of the pollsters got Tamil Nadu elections wrong, while most of them got the easy ones - Assam, Bengal and Kerala right. Any keen political observer would have correctly predicted these three states. It is being increasingly said that it is difficult for polls to call a close contest. However, some of them got Bihar, which was a landslide win, wrong as well.

Small sample sizes (usually 0.1% of vote base) which work in western countries may not work here. In a country like India, creating a sample with accurate demographic parameters.

Most times all constituencies are not covered and results of one are extrapolated over other constituencies in same district / region. Assuming poor people will answer honestly questions of media is faulty. Further, poll results can be manipulated and there are allegations that some of them are funded by political parties.

Anyways, coming back to Uttar Pradesh, elections are to be held in seven phases starting Feb 11, 2017 and results will be declared on March 11, 2017. Who will win UP is a million dollar question and things are very fluid currently. BJP was leading in 337 assembly seats with Apna Dal in 2014. Even if it loses 40% of these seats due to local factors it would still scrape through with 202 seats (half-way mark).

The absence of a Bihar like Mahagathbandhan and resultantly split of anti-BJP votes between SP and BSP will help the party. The family feud in SP is likely to weaken Yadav factions further. If SP manages to remain united and forges an alliance with the Congress then it can put up a spirited performance.

The SP is trying to project these elections as Akhilesh vs Modi similar to Nitish vs Modi in Bihar. However, Nitish's development track record over 10 year period is better than Akhilesh's 5 year stint. Further, while Nitish is credited with ending jungle raj, law and order has deteriorated under Akhilesh in UP. In India Today - Axis poll, 48% respondents prefer Mayawati on law and order issue vs 28% for Akhilesh.

In 2014, development trumped caste, people cutting across caste lines voted for Modi. A shift in voting patterns is clearly visible as state is seen moving away from caste based voting to growth and development as youth aspire for jobs, better education, better lifestyle, better infrastructure. Nonetheless the importance of caste cannot be rule out.

Dalits are firmly behind BSP, upper caste with BJP and Yadavs with SP. Muslims currently behind SP (71%), however this could change if there is a split and community feels Mayawati is better placed to take on Modi.

Three factors in the end could finally decide the ultimate winner.

  1. The OBC Vote (29% of population): Prior to 2014, their votes were split between the three parties. In 2014, an overwhelming 60% voted for BJP. How much of this support is retained by BJP is the key to outcome. Precisely for this purpose, BJP has formed an alliance with Apna Dal (Anupriya Patel faction) and SBSP.

  1. Demonetisation: An overwhelming 76% people in India Today - Axis Poll survey support demonetisation. This helped BJP to increase its tally from 176 in Oct. 2016 to 211 in current survey and vote share from 31% to 33%. With deadline of 50 days over, if BJP manages to significantly improve the cash availability in next one month before elections, support for this step could further increase and vice-a-versa.

  1. Popularity of Akhilesh vs Modi: As BJP has not announced any CM candidate, its leaders (Rajnath, Varun Gandhi, Yogi Adityanath) feature low in popularity ratings for most preferred CM candidate. Akhilesh is leading the pack vs Mayawati.

Key indicator to look out for is Akhilesh's popularity vs Modi in the state as Modi is effectively CM candidate on whose name BJP will seek votes. As per CSDS polls, voters felt that Akhilesh's performance as UP CM was better than that of Narendra Modi's performance as the Prime Minister, 34% vs 32%.

To sum up, the contest is still wide open. BJP has a head start due to its strong Lok Sabha performance, SP family feud and demonetisation will boost its prospects. If united SP forges an alliance with the Congress, contest would become interesting. If the SP splits and majority Muslims swing towards Mayawati, Dalit-Muslim combination could prove to be a challenge to BJP. Stay tuned...

Editorial NOTE: This article is categorized under Opinion Section. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of In case you have a opposing view, please click here to share the same in the comments section.
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