Notwithstanding a steep decline of seven percentage points to 32 from 39 in May 2009, the Congress is way ahead of its nearest rival, YSR Congress (20 per cent) and the TDP (17 per cent).

Like almost everywhere else in the country, the Congress’s fortunes in Andhra Pradesh are dipping significantly, yet the party cannot be written off as there is no viable alternative with a pan-Andhra Pradesh appeal. The fragmented opposition is another boost to the Congress.

Notwithstanding a steep decline of seven percentage points to 32 from 39 in May 2009, the Congress is way ahead of its nearest rival, YSR Congress (20 per cent) and the Telugu Desam Party (17 per cent). This marks a turning point in State politics as the TDP, which ruled AP for nearly 17 years, finds itself relegated to the third place, mainly due to competition from sub-regional parties like the TRS and the YSR Congress.

The CNN-IBN-The Hindu Poll Tracker 2013 is a fair reflection of how political developments have influenced voters’ preferences ever since Y. S. Rajasekhara Reddy’s death in September 2009 created a political vacuum. The Telangana Statehood issue dominates the political landscape and the TRS continues to leverage this sentiment, as seen by its vote share soaring from six to 13 per cent.

A notable feature is that 25 percent of the 1681 respondents rooted for Y. S. Jaganmohan Reddy, now in jail, as best suited to lead the State followed by N. Chandrababu Naidu (17 per cent), K. Chandrasekhar Rao (12) and Chief Minister N. Kiran Kumar Reddy (8 per cent).

Telangana at the core

The heart of the The Hindu-CNN-IBN Election Tracker Survey 2013 in Andhra Pradesh ahead of next year’s Lok Sabha election underscores that Telangana is the core election issue. An overwhelming 88 per cent of Telangana supporters say their voting choice will be largely, or almost entirely, determined by their stand on Statehood.

Dividing the State

This is in line with the response to the mother of all questions: Should Andhra Pradesh be divided? Predictably, respondents in Telangana have voted with a big ‘yes’ (61 per cent), higher than in 2009 (42 per cent), while the voices against division have become feebler in Rayalaseema, though slightly stronger in coastal Andhra.

In these complex circumstances, the Congress is at the crossroads. Conceding Telangana means losing ground in coastal Andhra and the Rayalaseema regions to the YSR Congress and the Telugu Desam Party (TDP). Not doing so means losing heavily in Telangana, which will make its 32 per cent vote share predicted in this survey doubtful.

As of now, the Congress’s vote share in Telangana is 27 per cent against the Telangana Rashtra Samithi’s (TRS) 24 per cent. This can be attributed mainly to the Telangana people’s expectations that it will create a separate State, and the possibility, however remote, of a TRS merger with the Congress.

Welfare schemes

Chief Minister N. Kiran Kumar Reddy has been arguing with party bosses in Delhi not to concede the Telangana demand out of panic. Given the high ratings for implementation of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee scheme (MGNREGA) in the State and success of other welfare programmes, he claims the Congress can win 25 Lok Sabha seats, eight fewer than in 2009.

The Congress has a high vote share of 44 per cent in coastal Andhra, 28 per cent in Rayalaseema (second after the YSR Congress with 48 per cent) and 27 per cent in Telangana. Yet, the voters rate Mr. Reddy quite low, possibly a reflection of the rise in the level of public dissatisfaction towards the State government from 49 in July 2011 to 61 per cent now, and the consequent dip in the approval rating from 57 to 46 per cent in these two years.

On Chandrababu Naidu

Given the varying political dynamics in each region, the TRS, YSR Congress and Congress will be the front-runners in Telangana, Rayalaseema and coastal Andhra respectively, making seat projections a difficult exercise. The TDP President, N. Chandrababu Naidu’s failure to win back the people and his flip-flop over Telangana seem to have pushed his party to third place in all regions.

Fourteen months in Chanchalguda jail on charges of corruption have not diluted Y.S. Jaganmohan Reddy’s popularity (25 per cent vote share) or the influence of his YSR Congress in Rayalaseema, though it stands a poor second in coastal Andhra and a distant fourth in Telangana.

Thirty-five per cent of voters believed that Jagan Reddy — son of the charismatic YSR who was killed in a chopper crash — is corrupt and is rightly being probed by the CBI against 29 per cent, including ruling party supporters, who believe he is innocent and is being framed.

The YSR Congress party’s 20 per cent share across the State is largely due to defections from the Congress, who believe that Jaganmohan is the real heir of YSR’s political legacy. It has eaten into the TDP’s share, for which the party has only itself to blame for vacating the Opposition space by giving an impression of being in league with the Congress to fix Jaganmohan.