6 exit poll trends that will play out in results

As the last round of polling in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls ended, the excitement over the Exit Polls began. This time around, these polls did not show any major variations in the numbers that they projected. At the two ends of the spectrum were the India Today-Axis Poll which projected that the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) would get approximately 352 seats (Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) around 306) and the Neta-NewsX poll, which placed the NDA at 242 (and the BJP at 202).

For the next few days (till the morning of May 23) there will be an animated debate about whether the exit polls really project and reflect the reality on the ground. In the case of political parties and their leaders, where they stand depends on where they sit! Without going into the debate on the merits of each of the polls, if one were to look at all the numbers being projected, are there any broad trends that can be discerned? Let me present six broad points that the exit polls point out to.

NDA and BJP poised to win

Firstly, all the estimations clearly indicate that the NDA and the BJP are ahead in the race. All, save one, are pointing out to the NDA securing a clear majority. Among those who have projected the BJP’s numbers, all, save two indicate a clear BJP majority. The exit polls clearly point out to an anticipated direction or trend. Clearly, the momentum seems to be with the NDA and the more nuanced debate is whether the BJP will secure a comfortable majority on its own and would be hemmed in by its coalition partners.

 

 

 

Either way, the likelihood of the government in power, with its present leadership, securing a second term seems imminent. Would it be an authentic coalition or a BJP government with a sprinkling of ministers from the allies is more a matter of finer detail.

North-South divide

Secondly, that this election is going to produce a visible North-South divide is more or less obvious. That the Hindi heartland continues to be the epicenter of BJP support is confirmed. Save Karnataka, the BJP seems to have a marginal presence south of the Vindhyas. The hold of the state-based parties in Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana has pushed the BJP and the Congress to playing second fiddle to regional satraps is also a clearly emerging fact. The bi-polar competition in Kerala remains intact though the BJP will emerge as a distant third player and may require a few more elections to truly make an impact.

New equations in the East

Thirdly, the real story of this election is the changing power equations in the east of India. All indications point out to the BJP emerging as the key opposition to the Trinamool Congress in West Bengal, displacing both the Left and the Congress. Whether the BJP is merely taking the space of the Left and the Congress or is it also making inroads into the Trinamool vote and seat share is something that would be revealed on May 23.

Exit polls are predicting a `split ticket` in Odisha, with the BJP doing well in the Lok Sabha elections from the state and the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) emerging victorious in the State Assembly poll. If this were to happen, it is possibly on the second time in the recent past, that in a simultaneous poll to the Lok Sabha and state Assembly, different parties would have secured a majority. Earlier in 2004, in Karnataka, the BJP won a majority of the Lok Sabha seats in the state but failed to secure a majority in the simultaneous state Assembly polls.

Key poll trend emerging

Fourthly, the 2019 Lok Sabha elections are witnessing the possible entrenchment of an important trend. Voters in India view national elections as different from state Assembly elections. Odisha has already been discussed in the previous point. This may also be played out in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Chhattisgarh. In December 2018 state Assembly elections, the Congress was elected in all these three states. It is likely to concede a majority of the seats to the BJP in all of them, or at least two of them.

Exit polls have differed on the intensity of the BJP victory in the three states, but most point out to the BJP doing better than the Congress. If one were to bring Delhi into the calculations, it is clear from the exit polls that the BJP is likely to sweep Delhi. They won all the seats in 2014 but faced a reversal in the state polls the very next year. Many are projecting a similar trend this time around.

BJP was smarter about alliances

Fifthly, the importance of alliance chemistry being as important as electoral arithmetic is going to be vindicated by the results. The BJP during its five years in power, treated the alliance as a necessary appendage, and recognised its need as a belated afterthought. As the elections approached, the ruling party realised the importance of stitching up a workable alliance in key states to effectively face the Opposition. In Bihar, it bent over backwards to accommodate its allies. It even agreed to concede seats that it won in 2014 to make space for its allies. In Maharashtra, it overlooked the acrimony of the past with the Shiv Sena and re-established its alliance with its oldest partner. It kept its alliance going with the Akali Dal though many within the party favoured going alone. It stitched up a coalition with the AIADMK as it saw the potential of emerging as the leader of that alliance in the long run. In the North East, it settled seat-sharing arrangements with important state-based parties and avoided a split of votes.

On the other hand, the Congress was unable to visibly expand the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) and strike an accord with important state-based parties in Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh and Delhi. While the BJP stooped to conquer, the Congress was stuck in ego clashes with potential allies. One is likely to see the impact of this ‘lost opportunity’. While chemistry and arithmetic have become the alliance buzz words, enough attention is not focused on `ground level credibility` that binds the two together.

A leadership advantage

Finally, the exit polls point out to the importance of the leadership factor. The entire BJP and NDA campaign revolved around the personality of the prime minister. Narendra Modi was its chief campaigner and its ‘political mascot’. If the BJP and NDA do well it would well be a reflection of the success of a presidential-style election campaign. Once concedes that leadership is ‘a’ factor and not ‘the’ factor, but beyond doubt, it is a crucial factor.

As one waits eagerly for counting day, the impact of the above six trends are likely to play out in the electoral verdict.

(Sandeep Shastri is a political/election analyst. He is Pro Vice-Chancellor, JAIN – adeemed to be university)

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