While these elections are being described as a litmus test for Narendra Modi’s popularity outside Gujarat, “The Hindu“ takes a look at his potential impact on results

While most opinion polls predict that the BJP will win at least three of the five States going for elections in this season, the extent of the BJP’s Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi’s impact on these results is harder to pinpoint. In its essence, the problem is a long-standing conundrum that confronts Indian politics — do people vote differently at the local and national level?

Of all the polls that have been conducted this election season, two large sample surveys — conducted by organisations which shared detailed data with The Hindu — allow for a comparison over time and for some estimation of Mr. Modi’s impact.

Centre for Voting Opinion & Trends in Election Research’s (CVoter) poll conducted in October-November on 35,000 people in the five States predicted a hung house in Delhi, a race too close to call in Mizoram, close leads for the BJP in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh and a clear win for the BJP in Rajasthan. “Close,” CVoter says, meant that the margin of projected victory was within the +/-3% margin of error that the survey throws up.

While there is no doubt from the CVoter numbers that Mr. Modi is the leading choice in all five States as the Prime Ministerial candidate, his potential impact on the State elections would again be an indication of voters’ intentions to vote similarly in the State and national elections, given that the Chief Ministerial candidates in two of the three States the BJP is projected to win have lower popularity ratings than Mr. Modi.

Moreover, the trend since Mr. Modi’s elevation is difficult to read. The BJP’s vote-share projection in Chhattisgarh, according to CVoter’s weekly tracking poll, has risen by one per cent since Mr. Modi’s declaration as PM candidate, while the seat projection has dropped by one seat. Similarly in Madhya Pradesh, the vote-share projection has gone up by one per cent since September, but the seat projection has dropped by four seats. There is a similar trend in Rajasthan. However, given that these increases are within the margin of error, it is mathematically difficult to estimate the impact of Mr. Modi’s elevation.

CVoter’s managing director and chief editor Yashwant Deshmukh says that their polling numbers cannot estimate Mr. Modi’s impact on the State elections, primarily because people vote differently at the State and national level. “Our numbers show that the BJP has a three per cent lead in vote-share at the State level, but 15 per cent at the parliamentary level,” Mr. Deshmukh says. If both State and parliamentary elections were to be held tomorrow, it was conceivable that the Congress could hypothetically win all five States — due to the error margin — but that did not imply it would win at the Centre, he adds.

The Centre for the Study of Developing Societies’ (CSDS) October poll for the news channel CNN-IBN and The Week magazine surveyed a representative, randomised sample of around 10,000 persons in four of the five States going to the polls — Delhi, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh — which allowed them to make comparisons with their July results (which were conducted on a smaller sample in each of the four States since the July poll was conducted across the country).

The CSDS poll showed that Mr. Modi was the preferred choice of Prime Ministerial candidate in all four States, and preferences for him had gone up in all four States. However, Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi’s popularity ratings had also marginally improved in the four States as had satisfaction with the Centre. The Modi-Gandhi gap in popularity widened in Delhi and Rajasthan and narrowed in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, CSDS said.

The CSDS poll predicted that the BJP would win big in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan while there would be a hung house in Delhi. But while the elections are being described as a litmus test for Mr. Modi, can the opinion poll numbers attribute the surge towards the BJP to Mr. Modi in the absence of direct questions of this nature?

Sanjay Kumar, director of CSDS’s National Election Studies, says that the numbers do indicate the impact of Mr. Modi. “The proportion of people who want Mr. Modi as PM has jumped in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan between July and October 2013,” Mr. Kumar told The Hindu. In Madhya Pradesh, for instance, Mr. Kumar says more people preferred Shivraj Singh Chouhan as PM than Mr. Modi in July, but this has now been reversed. If the State’s CM candidate is now less popular than the PM candidate, can Mr. Modi’s impact on the State election outcome really be that clear? “People no longer vote differently at the State and national level,” he says. Research had shown that since the 1980s, people were more committed to political parties and wanted to vote for the same party at the State and the Centre, he adds.

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