Development, price rise and jobs will be the overriding voter concerns in 2014 Lok Sabha poll

Results from an opinion poll based on a nearly 20,000-strong sample size conducted for CNN-IBN and The Hindu by the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies indicate that ‘development and the economy’ and ‘price rise’ will dominate voter concerns in 2014. Corruption comes in at a distant fifth, just half as important to voters as ‘development and the economy’.

Moreover, these numbers hold strong, with small variations, across income groups and social categories. ‘Development and the economy’ is the top concern for all groups including Muslims, except women for whom ‘price rise’ is the greatest concern; unsurprising in a country in which women still do the lion’s share of household work.

With the International Monetary Fund lowering India’s growth projections for this fiscal year to 5.6% and food price inflation escalating further towards the end of June when the survey was conducted, it seems only logical that the economy and price rise were of greatest concern to voters. The perception of the economy is largely fair or ‘bad’, with just over 20% seeing the economy in “very good” or “good” shape. Respondents from western and central India are more positive about the state of the economy than those in the north, east and south. But with the rupee in trouble and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh warning that there’s a tough year ahead, the UPA has reason to worry that respondents, especially those better off and those living in cities, viewed the BJP as being better at handling economic crises than the economist-led Congress.

More people reported being satisfied with their personal financial conditions than dissatisfied — 59% as against 34% — but this satisfaction rating has been dropping sharply since 2011. The poor report consistently lower satisfaction with their financial situation than the rich in all surveys. Across the spectrum, most seem to agree inequality has risen.

Although income and consumption expenditure have risen and poverty, as the latest Planning Commission figures show, has fallen, the picture on real wages is at best mixed, but with substantial declines in several sectors. But high inflation, especially of food, is eroding the purchasing power of many, particularly the poor. The urban poor, whose real wages have not had the bolstering effect of an employment guarantee scheme and do not produce any food for self-consumption, are most vocal about rising prices; nearly 90% of the urban poor said prices of essential commodities had risen during the tenure of UPA-II, as compared to just over 80% for the whole sample. Perceptions about rising prices are in general far stronger in 2013 than in 2011.

Most respondents place the blame for this with both the government at the Centre and at the States, with another third blaming only the Central government. In Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, Karnataka and Bihar, the anti-Centre sentiment is far stronger, with far more respondents in these states blaming the Centre than the State or both for rising prices.

“It really is puzzling, that we have had nearly two years now of consumer price inflation over 10%, and nobody seems to be making an issue out of it. In earlier times, an unanticipated spike in prices could topple governments. But the opposition just hasn’t been taking up these questions,” Pronab Sen, economist and former chief statistician of India, told The Hindu.

With the government having added nearly no net new jobs between 2005 and 2010, it isn’t surprising that nearly 60% of respondents said that employment opportunities had either remained the same or decreased under the UPA-II. The 2011 Census showed that for the first time urban job creation had outstripped rural job creation, and these numbers find an echo in the CSDS survey; 34% of urban voters believe job opportunities have improved as against 27% of rural voters. While more urban voters believe job opportunities have increased than decreased, the reverse is true for rural voters. Women, whose rates of workforce participation are not just low but are falling as the National Sample Survey shows, report being far less satisfied with employment opportunities than men.