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Gujarat: Tight race heads for a photo-finish?

AGE CORRESPONDENT
Published : Dec 6, 2017, 12:38 am IST
Updated : Dec 6, 2017, 6:47 am IST

The issue of development in Gujarat has always polarised opinions, and our survey too reveals a mixed set of responses.

The challenge for the Congress is to not let this momentum slip away in the last few days of campaigning, while the BJP can’t afford any further fall in popularity if it wants to return to power in Gandhinagar for the sixth straight term. (Representational image)
 The challenge for the Congress is to not let this momentum slip away in the last few days of campaigning, while the BJP can’t afford any further fall in popularity if it wants to return to power in Gandhinagar for the sixth straight term. (Representational image)

This is an extract from the report of the third round of the Tracker Poll conducted by the Lokniti-CSDS team in Gujarat in the last week of November, which covered 3,655 voters in 50 Assembly constituencies:

The electoral race in Gujarat between the BJP and the Congress could well be headed for a photo-finish. The Lokniti-CSDS tracker poll found the two arch-rivals locked in a neck-and-neck competition — both with 43 per cent votes each. Compared to the previous poll, in the last week of October, this represents a four percentage point loss for the BJP and a two-point gain for the Congress, whose recovery in the state has been nothing short of stunning. The party trailed the BJP by 30 points in the first half of August when Lokniti-CSDS conducted Round 1 of the Tracker Poll. By Round 2 in October, the huge gap had shrunk to just six points, and now with the BJP’s lead having evaporated, it seems the race could be won by either side as they enter the final lap. The challenge for the Congress is to not let this momentum slip away in the last few days of campaigning, while the BJP can’t afford any further fall in popularity if it wants to return to power in Gandhinagar for the sixth straight term.

Over the past month, the Congress staged an impressive recovery in the southern and central regions of the state, where it had been trailing the BJP by quite a huge margin. The latest poll finds the party made a major recovery in south Gujarat where it is now leading the BJP by two points. In central Gujarat too, it has regained ground and is almost at par with the BJP. It has also managed to hold on to its fairly big lead over the BJP in north Gujarat. In Saurashtra and Kutch, however, it has suffered a slight drop in popularity. Here, the BJP leads the Congress by about five points.

There is, however, a rural-urban divide in Saurashtra when it comes to voting intentions. In rural Saurashtra, the Congress is the frontrunner, while in urban Saurashtra, the BJP dominates.

This differing rural-urban voting behaviour, in fact, is not limited to Saurashtra alone and can be seen in most parts of Gujarat. Much of the Congress’ popularity in rural areas can be attributed to discontent among farmers, over half of whom are planning to vote for the party.

The other occupational category where the Congress seems to have made significant gains are traders, who were hit hard by the introduction of GST. While the October survey showed the BJP leading by four points among traders, this round shows the lead nearly reversed, with the Congress now getting 43 per cent votes among the trading community, opposed to the BJP’s 40 per cent. The trading community still remains largely dissatisfied by the recent GST concessions made by the GST Council, with 52 per cent of them registering their dissatisfaction, which is eight points above average (overall, 44 per cent respondents said they were dissatisfied).

That said, their dissatisfaction has reduced a bit with the announcement of the new concessions. Another reason for the Congress’ popularity rising in the last four weeks is the new support it is getting among women. A month ago, women were found to be strongly backing the BJP over the Congress, 50 per cent to 39 per cent. This 11-point advantage has now reduced to two points. The price rise, which emerged as the most important issue for voters for the third straight round, could be one possible explanation for this shift in women’s support away from the BJP. Lack of jobs and poverty are the two other important issues for voters. If we factor in price rise, unemployment and poverty, these issues together trump the issue of vikas, or development, by a wide margin. While some election watchers suggest caste considerations might trump the development issue, our survey indicates that the economy and economic concerns might determine voter choices the most. Economic hardship faced by voters is, in fact, a big reason for the Congress’ rise.

A majority of Patidars/ Patels, for instance, was found to be backing the Congress in the latest survey. This despite the fact that Hardik Patel’s likeability among them was found to have declined somewhat. It seems many Patidars are backing the Congress not just due to Hardik Patel’s call to defeat the BJP or their unmet demand for reservations but also over economic concerns. Also, tribals or adivasis, who had moved towards the BJP in the first two trackers, now seem back with the Congress. The Congress’ alliance with Chhotu Vasava’s Bharatiya Tribal Party may partly explain. The decline in support among adivasis for the BJP is significant as it may be banking on their votes to offset its losses among Patidars.

The latest poll also finds a majority of Kshatriyas, Thakors, Dalits and Muslims are backing the Congress. But Kolis, a major voting bloc, seem to have moved away from the party and towards the BJP.

As far as leadership is concerned, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is still the state’s most popular leader. But his popularity has taken a bit of a hit in the last four weeks. While he was liked by 67 per cent of voters at the end of October, this is now 64 per cent. Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi’s likeability has, on the other hand, gone up by six points, from 51 to 57 per cent. The 16-point gap between Mr Modi and Mr Gandhi is now down to just seven points.

Not only is Mr Modi a bit less popular, satisfaction with his government has also declined drastically in the last four months. In early August, 67 per cent expressed their satisfaction with his government. This has fallen to 54 per cent in October and is now just 47 per cent. Similarly, people’s satisfaction with the performance of chief minister Vijay Rupani’s government has declined from 69 to 57 to 53 percent. This is significant since in the 2012 election Mr Modi had returned to power in Gujarat with a 63 per cent satis      faction rating for the state government led by him. What should also worry the BJP is the rising anti-incumbency sentiment. Only one in three wants to give the present state government another chance now, compared to one in two back in August.

What should also concern the BJP is that three in every five voters now believe the Modi government has failed to bring in achche din, compared to one in every two in October. It seems India’s rise in the World Bank’s ease of doing business ranking, Moody’s ratings upgrade for the Indian economy, and the GST rate concessions have not really improved voters’ perception of Mr Modi’s performance. All three events took place after the October-end tracker and before the November-end one.

The issue of development in Gujarat has always polarised opinions, and our survey too reveals a mixed set of responses. Of the total respondents, 26 per cent believe development in Gujarat has been inclusive for all, 36 per cent feel it only benefited the rich, and 20 per cent believe no development has taken place.

Mr Rahul Gandhi, on the campaign trail, has made development, or the lack of it, one of his main issues, and this seems to have made an impact. The Congress leads by a significant margin among those unconvinced by the BJP’s development record in the state. Among those who feel development has been for all, the BJP has a strong lead.

As the competition heats up, the race is getting more ambiguous, which is reflected in the responses of this round. Asked about the possible outcome from their Assembly seat, the responses were equally divided between Congress’ win and the BJP’s. The BJP seems to have a slight edge over the Congress, with 38 per cent predicting its victory against 37 per cent for the Congress. However, this is not very different from the picture that emerged in the last round. What is significant and should be noted is that the answer category “cannot say who will win” shows the maximum gains. This could be due to the competition getting tougher as one nears voting day.  Hardik Patel’s purported CD managed to get impassioned reactions from several quarters, with people divided between the morality of its content and the legitimacy of interfering in a private matter. Our survey, too, shows respondents are divided over the issue. First, however, it must be noted that the knowledge of the CD itself wasn’t very widespread. Only 39 per cent of respondents had actually heard of or seen the video in question, mainly concentrated in urban regions. A high percentage of voters from Saurashtra, 49 per cent, had seen it, perhaps as it is a major centre of the Patel agitation.

Mr Modi’s personal popularity and his emotional connect with Gujaratis are said to be the trump card that can upset the Congress’ gains at the last moment.  Our survey, however, reveals surprising findings. The Congress leads among those voters who pride their Gujarati identity over national identity, while the BJP leads in the segment who view their national identity higher than their regional one.

This is significant and could suggest the “Gujarati Asmita” card might not work as the BJP hopes, though it is too early to predict given that the last leg of campaigning is left.

— Team Lokniti

Tags: gujarat assembly elections, congress, ‪bjp, hardik patel, prime minister narendra modi, rahul gandhi