Is the 2019 Lok Sabha election essentially a leadership race? The CSDS-Lokniti post-poll data seems to indicate that while leadership was a factor, it was not the most critical issue that swayed electoral preferences.
During the campaign, it was patently visible that the BJP was taking every effort to make it a presidential-style poll, with their candidates seeking votes in the name of the Prime Minister.
The post-poll survey data indicate that more than four out of every 10 respondents (44%) would prefer Narendra Modi as the next Prime Minister. It is a clear 18 percentage points ahead of his nearest rival in the leadership sweepstakes, Rahul Gandhi. It needs to be underscored that this lead has been consistent over time and is similar to what was indicated by the 2014 post-poll survey.
In the Hindi heartland, support for Mr. Modi as the Prime Minister is higher than the national average by four percentage points (48%). Further, for every two voters who back Mr. Modi, only one supports Mr. Gandhi in this region (48% versus 24%). Support for Mr. Modi as Prime Minister is significantly higher among voters below 25 years of age (5% points higher than national average) and declines with increase in age.
Similarly, half the respondents who have a college degree are likely to support Mr. Modi for Prime Minister and this percentage declines with reduced access to education. Among the upper castes, support for Mr. Modi as Prime Minister is 18 percentage points higher than the national average and among the Other Backward Classes, it is nine percentage points higher. More than half the Hindu respondents support Mr. Modi for Prime Ministership, while only one of every 10 Muslim respondents do so.
The leadership factor plays out in another interesting way. Three-fourths of those who said that they would vote for the NDA allies of the BJP favoured Mr. Modi as the Prime Minister.
Three of every 10 of those who supported the Left parties opted for Mr. Modi as the Prime Minister. Further a little over one-fourth (26%) of the supporters of non-UPA, non-NDA, non-SP/BSP State-based parties expressed a preference for Mr. Modi as Prime Minister.
The survey directly sought to tap the impact of the leadership factor in voting choice.
Respondents were asked if they would continue to vote for the party they chose even if Mr. Modi were not the prime ministerial candidate of the BJP/NDA. Among those who said they would vote for the BJP, close to one-third (32%) said their voting preference would have changed if Mr. Modi were not to be the prime ministerial candidate. This marks a five percentage point increase since the 2014 post-poll survey. In eight States of India, more than one-third of those who stated that they voted for the BJP said they would not have done so if Mr. Modi had not been the prime ministerial candidate.
In Karnataka, Odisha and Bihar, more than half of those who said that they had voted for the BJP said that they would not have done so if Mr. Modi were not the prime ministerial candidate. In Haryana and the Jammu region, more than four out of every 10 of those who said that they voted for the BJP declared that they would not have voted for the party if the prime ministerial candidate was different.
Interestingly, in the Hindi heartland, the party seems to have taken root and the personality or leadership factor is less critical there for a vote for the BJP. Thus, in much of the Hindi heartland save Bihar, the non-assertion among the BJP voters that Mr. Modi was the key factor in their voting is noteworthy. The presence of the party on the ground was a key factor driving support for it.
In 14 of the 29 States of India (where the survey was conducted), only one-fourth of those who said that they voted for the BJP expressed the view that they would not have voted for the party if the prime ministerial candidate was different.
It is important to record that in crucial States such as Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Jharkhand, much less than one-fourth of those who voted for the BJP, said they would have changed their party choice if Mr. Modi was not the prime ministerial candidate.
If close to one-third of the BJP respondents across the country, indicated that they would not have voted for the BJP if there was a different prime ministerial candidate, in the case of those respondents who said that they voted for the NDA allies of the BJP, one-fourth of them said they would not have voted for this ally if the NDA prime ministerial candidate was different. Thus the intensity of support for the Prime Minister is much less among the voters of the NDA allies than among the BJP voters.
A final factor that needs to be emphasised is the leadership “pull factor”. Among the respondents who switched sides from the Congress to the BJP (from 2014 to 2019), close to eight of every 10 (78%) preferred Mr. Modi to Mr. Gandhi.
Among respondents who moved from the BJP to the Congress (2014 to 2019), fewer than six of every 10 (56%) favoured Mr. Gandhi over Mr. Modi. Thus, while the leadership factor is an important variable in explaining the support for the BJP/NDA, it may not be the only issue propelling the ruling alliance/party back to power.
( The author is Pro Vice-Chancellor of Jain University and National Coordinator of the Lokniti Network )