NEW DELHI – Prime Minister Narendra Modi may be in the third year of his term, but his approval ratings among Indians have remained high. Eight in ten Indians have a favourable view of the 66-year-old leader, a Pew Research Center report has found.
The report is based on the findings of Pew's Global Attitudes Spring 2016 survey. The agency conducted 2,464 face-to-face interviews in 167 urban and rural settlements in nine large Indian cities over the course of April and May this year.
However, despite encouraging statistics—two in three Indians are satisfied with the direction of their country, and four out of five think that the economy is doing well—Modi's ratings have dipped by six percentage points from the previous year. His favourable ratings have also dipped—fewer Indians have "a very favourable" view of Modi as compared to last year. And, despite the overall high public support for him, Indians' opinions of his specific character attributes is not very high.
This is a fallout of how his image has been built for the public, social scientist Shiv Visvanathan told HuffPost India. "He is an image, not a fact," he said. "As long as he sustains the image of the ideal, the middle class will back him."
However, ever since the Bharatiya Janata Party's sweeping electoral victory in the 2014 general elections, there is a definite rise in public contentment with where India is headed. This is especially true in the northern and eastern parts of India. About two in three Indians said they were satisfied with their country's direction, a steady improvement since Modi came to power. Compare this with the mass melancholia with the country's state of affairs in 2013, with less than a third satisfied with the country's progress.
This is not unconnected to the growth in the Indian economy from 5% in 2013 to 7.6% in 2015. Around seven out of ten Indians believe that this will have a positive fallout on their children, who they believe will be financially better off than their parents—a belief that has increased since Modi came to power.
Modi's approval rating is high across demographic barriers and party affiliations, the Pew report found. Even though he is most popular among BJP supporters and those with a college education, his appeal transcends demographics.
Most Indians believe that Modi cares about people like them, and that he stands up for what he believes in. However, less than five out of ten Indians believe that the prime minister can "get things done". At least a third of Indians interviewed believed that the PM cannot accomplish things.
His lowest approval rating, unsurprisingly, is for his handling of communal relations, as was the case last year. Even as communal incidents appear to be on the rise, public polarisation on this issue has grown. The survey found 65% BJP supporters believe that Modi handles communal incidents well, which is in sharp contrast with supporters of the opposition, where only 40% agree.
Even though most Indians approve of how Modi handles a variety of domestic issues—ranging from unemployment to poverty, terrorism, and corruption—support for these has either grown or remained the same among BJP voters. At the same time, his approval ratings for handling these issues—as well as for Modi in general—have fallen drastically among Congress party backers.
Approval for the Indian National Congress has risen since Modi came to power, with two out of three Indians giving the party as well as two of its leaders—Sonia and Rahul Gandhi—a favourable rating. Even a majority of BJP supporters gave the party and the mother-son duo a positive rating. Unlike in Modi's case, most of their supporters are from Indians who have a primary school education or less. The intensity of approval for the party has also increased from last year, with their biggest supporters reportedly from Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, and Tamil Nadu.
The biggest national problems that plague India today are crime, corruption, unemployment and terrorism, according to most Indians. In fact, 62% Indians believe that "using overwhelming military force is the best way to defeat terrorism in the world", and believe India should spend more on its defence. Surprisingly, intensity of concern for crime and terrorism has gone significantly down, though there is general public anxiety on the issues.
Fewer Indians care about air pollution than last year—even though it still remains a significant worry—and many believe that economic growth should not compromise the health concerns that air pollution poses.
Even though more Indians believe that their country plays a more important role in the world today than it did a decade ago, many of them are unwilling to help other countries deal with their problems.
Many Indians see China as a big threat for the country's economy, and also see China's relationship with Pakistan in negative light. They are wary of the growing power of the Chinese military, the survey found.