CSDS-Lokniti pre-poll survey | Economy takes front seat in 2024 campaign

The coming Lok Sabha election is framed as a contest between competing narratives, with political parties vying to convince voters of their ability to effectively address economic uncertainties; unemployment and price rises emerge as primary concerns for voters, reflecting a shift in their priorities compared with previous elections

April 11, 2024 05:58 am | Updated 11:04 am IST

Irrespective of macro-economic indicators used to prove the point that the economy is doing well, voters are worried about the empirically lived economy that they experience. Image for representation

Irrespective of macro-economic indicators used to prove the point that the economy is doing well, voters are worried about the empirically lived economy that they experience. Image for representation | Photo Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

As the campaign hots up and voters in some parts gear up for voting, all the masala required for the Opposition to corner the ruling BJP is in place and over the next few weeks we shall witness a keen battle on the questions of economy.

Also Read: Lokniti CSDS 2024 Lok Sabha elections: a package

Does economics trump politics or does politics sidestep economics? This has been a perennial debate while analysing electoral politics. This debate is revisiting us in the 2024 campaign. The CSDS-Lokniti pre-poll survey 2024 responses provide visible evidence of the concerns about limited employment opportunities, spiralling prices, increasing corruption, rising rural distress and perception of deteriorating economic conditions of the households. Is this likely to be capitalised on by the Opposition as part of its electoral campaign or will the ruling party be able to offset its impact with a counter-narrative?

Two points emerge distinctly. One, voters are generally aware of the economic distress they are going through. Irrespective of macro-economic indicators used to prove the point that the economy is doing well, voters are worried about the empirically lived economy that they experience. The other point which categorically emerges from the pre-poll data is the visible class divide. The poor and lower middle classes appear to have been more adversely affected by the emerging economic distress as compared to the more economically well placed. This dimension becomes clear when one assesses the multiple layers of the economic disquiet. There is a clear expression of heightened concern among the economically less well-off compared to those in better economic circumstances.

Employment scenario

More than two-thirds of the respondents felt that it has become more difficult to secure jobs. In urban areas and among men, the expression of distress is marginally higher. More than three-fourths of the respondents say that the Union government has a responsibility to expand job opportunities. One notices similar numbers when it comes to responsibility for shrinking job opportunities. How parties present this issue as part of their election campaign will have a key role in building public perceptions in this regard. This survey was conducted when the Congress manifesto had just about made its appearance and the job guarantees of the party were yet to sink in. So, in the upcoming days how this issue will play out is something to be watched.

Similarly, close to two-thirds believe that they witnessed a price rise as compared to five years ago. The poor and rural residents assert this point more sharply than the urban dwellers and those in the middle and upper classes. When comparing the responsibility of State and Union governments on price rises, there is an interesting contrast. While a higher percentage of voters would place the blame for price rise on the Union government as compared to the State, the reverse is true when it comes to giving credit for decreasing prices. It will be interesting to watch how parties play up this issue as part of their respective campaigns and electoral strategies. The BJP may draw some solace from the fact that voters do not seem to hold its government at the Centre solely responsible for the economic mess in which they find themselves. The tactical response of the voters is that both the Centre and the States are responsible for this.

Household income

How do respondents perceive the status of their household income as compared to five years ago? We have compared the responses in a pre-poll survey done in 2019 and the results from the current study. A higher percentage would say we are now able to fulfil our needs and save. A much lower percentage would say that we find difficulty in fulfilling our needs and find it difficult to save money. On this parameter, there is a visible class divide. Half the poor respondents said that we face difficulties in fulfilling our needs. This percentage falls as we go up in the economic hierarchy and only one of every five among the upper class would make this point.

A linked factor is their assessment of the quality of their life. While close to half the respondents said that the quality of life had improved, this percentage of positive reporting falls to a little over one-third when it comes to the poor. There is a clear decline in the reporting of an improvement in the quality of life when one moves down the economic ladder. Similarly, there is a marginal decrease in the expression of a worsening of quality of life as one moves up the economic ladder.

When asked about which segment of the population has benefitted from the development activities of the government, the percentage which said that it benefitted only the rich has gone up by eight percentage points. There was a higher reporting among the poor as compared to the more well to do, that development only benefitted the rich, with the difference being as high as five percentage points.

While responding to questions about the rural distress and farmer woes, close to six of every ten said that this distress was real.

Key issues

Given all these concerns of the economy, it is not surprising which issues will dominate the elections. Half the respondents mentioned unemployment and price rise as key election issues. It would be important to record that in 2019, barely over one-sixths mentioned these two issues according to the CSDS-Lokniti pre-poll survey of 2019. Another one-fourth mentioned development and corruption and this percentage does not vary much from what was there in 2019.

The findings of this latest survey indicate that distress linked to the economy is a matter of grave concern for the voters. The fear of not being able to secure meaningful employment opportunities, the reality of price rise, its impact on life and livelihood and the fact of rural distress is something that is at the back of the mind of respondents. Further, there is a clear class divide in the intensity of responses. The economically less well-off, appear to experience this distress more acutely. This does not imply that the economically well-off do not face economic challenges. They have a wider basket of coping strategies.

So, at the start of a hectic campaign season for the 2024 election, economic distress has the potential to be a key factor. Will the Opposition be able to leverage these issues to their advantage and build an effective campaign around these issues? On the other hand, does the ruling party have a strategy to offset the impact of economic distress and project an alternative narrative? Increasingly, elections are a ‘battle of narratives’ and are about who is more effective in capturing the imagination of the voter.

An associated factor is the belief of the voters as to which party is best suited to address their economic distress. Does the Opposition have a convincing alternative strategy and more importantly, be able to win the confidence of the voter in being better suited to offer a solution to this distress? On the other hand, does the ruling party recognise the presence of this distress and provide a persuasive and powerful argument as to why they are best placed to provide a solution?

The survey findings to be reported over the next couple of days will provide some more clues to answer these knotty questions that are likely to be central to the 2024 election battle.

(Sandeep Shastri is the National Coordinator of the Lokniti Network, Suhas Palshikar is chief editor of Studies in Indian Politics, Sanjay Kumar is Professor and Co-director CSDS-Lokniti)

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