Going with the wind

Surveys show that building hawa is crucial for any party to influence voters in its favour. The floating voters need to be closely watched in Bihar, which is set to see a tightly contested poll

September 11, 2015 03:25 am | Updated 12:45 pm IST

Surveys have found that there are voters who prefer to vote for the party which is leading the race.

Surveys have found that there are voters who prefer to vote for the party which is leading the race.

An Indian voter considers many factors before exercising his/her vote, and one of them is hawa (wind). ‘ Yahan kiski hawa hai?’ (Which way is the wind blowing?) is a common question heard during election time in the Hindi heartland. This means that the person asking the question wants to know which party or candidate is likely to win from that particular seat. But the most intriguing manner in which the word is used is when a voter is asked the other standard question, ‘Who are you going to vote for?’ And he or she replies, ‘ Dekhte hai , jiski hawa hai, usko ’ (Let me see, whichever way the wind is blowing).

Floating votersHawa is especially an important consideration for those who are unable to make up their mind about whom to vote for, a category of voters popularly referred to as the floating voters. Floating voters, many of whom make their decision depending on which way the wind is blowing, especially play a crucial role in closely contested elections.

Ground reports as well as multiple surveys show that there will be a tight electoral race in Bihar, set to go to the polls, so the floating voters are going to be important in this State. It is no surprise that both the ruling party, Janata Dal (United), as well as the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have already launched their campaigns using different kind of raths to build hawa in their favour as early as possible.

There is a strong perception that hawa matters in shaping the voting decision of at least the floating voters. But has there been a reality check? The Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) used findings from the National Election Study 2014 to check this hypothesis. We wanted to find out if there is a bandwagon effect in Indian elections and if yes, to what extent.

Findings of the survey indicate a clear bandwagon effect in Indian elections. There are voters who prefer to vote for the party which is leading the race. Overall, a little over four out of every 10 voters (43 per cent) seem to go with the hawa , while 45 per cent voted on their own, without any consideration for who seemed to be ahead in the race.

A very strong general perception of the Congress’ loss in the 2014 Lok Sabha election seems to have hurt the party badly. Data suggests that the BJP’s lead over the Congress was much greater among those who preferred voting for the winning party as compared to those who were indifferent about this. The gap between the BJP and the Congress was 18 percentage points among the former as compared to just eight percentage points among the latter. This phenomenon continued to play out even at the State level, as a section of the electorate voted for the party which was most likely to lead in that State. In six States, including some of the biggest ones such as Bihar, West Bengal and Karnataka, support for the leading party among those who preferred voting for the winning party was more than 10 percentage points greater than the vote share among indifferent voters. In another nine States, this gap was positive and there seemed to be some degree of bandwagon effect. There were only six States — Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh — where the leading party had no special advantage. The 15 States where the leading party (at the State level) received higher support among those who voted for a party because it was likely to win included Kerala, Telangana, Odisha and West Bengal — States where the BJP did not even lead.

It is interesting to note that in States such as Odisha, Telangana, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal, the BJP had higher support among those who were likely to vote for the winning party. This points out towards an interesting dimension of this bandwagon effect. Not only do voters have different assessments of which party is likely to win, but they might be assessing the prospects at different levels. Some voters may care about the party which is going to win the election nationally, some may consider the State-level winner, and some may only be concerned about the likely winner in their own constituency.

Change in strategy Parties and leaders have come to realise the importance of building hawa in their favour for winning an election. Unless hawa is an important consideration for common voters, why would parties make so many efforts to build campaigns much in advance, even before the election has been announced? While political parties have realised the importance of building hawa to win elections, the strategy to build hawa has changed. There is a strong belief that opinion polls are a useful tool, but the findings of the survey hardly point in that direction. Instead, the findings indicate that amongst those who watched opinion polls on TV and favoured voting for the winning party, 39 per cent had voted for the BJP. The party’s vote share was not very different among those who watched opinion polls but were indifferent towards the winning party (36 per cent). More than opinion polls, political debates on TV are effective in building hawa for parties.

But of all the strategies used by parties in recent times, what has been most effective in building hawa has been early propaganda by the party (the ruling party) about the work done by the government. Political workers lead mass campaigns, organise rallies and padyatras, but reaching out to the people about the achievements of the government is a different exercise. No wonder professionals like Prashant Kishor and agencies such as the Indian Political Action Committee are being hired by parties to run campaigns to build hawa . Such an effort by the BJP was hugely successful during the 2014 Lok Sabha election. Will the strategy work its magic in Bihar?

(Sanjay Kumar is Professor and Director of CSDS, and Pranav Gupta is a researcher with Lokniti, a research programme with CSDS, Delhi)

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