POLITICS

Bellwether Kasganj Or Simply Luck By Chance?

Kasganj survived simply by chance. Economists refer to this phenomenon as the survivorship bias.

09/02/2017 9:36 AM IST | Updated 09/02/2017 1:10 PM IST
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An interesting piece in HuffPost India by Shivam Vij talked about the Kasganj assembly seat in Uttar Pradesh being a bellwether. As he wrote: "There's something special about seat number 100 in the Uttar Pradesh legislative assembly. For 43 years, in each of the 11 assembly elections since 1974, this seat has voted for the party which has also won Uttar Pradesh. None of the other 402 seats in the assembly gets it right like Kasganj, making it a bellwether seat to watch."

The question is why has this happened? Why has Kasganj voted for the political party which has won the Uttar Pradesh elections, in each of the 11 assembly elections since 1974? Is there some deep reason to this?

Andrew Clarance
A still from Kasganj, Uttar Pradesh

As Vij writes: "There is nothing scientific about the bellwether phenomenon and Kasganj could well get it right this time." I wish he had stopped here. But he goes on to explain: "Yet, a coincidence lasting 11 election cycles must be taken seriously. Perhaps it is the constituency's social composition and geographic location that make it a bellwether. Upper castes, Muslims, Dalits, Yadavs and other OBCs are all found in this seat. While Lodhs are the largest community by numbers, that is representative of how non-Yadav OBCs are the largest caste block, even if a fragmented one, across the state."

The point that Vij is trying to make is that Kasganj is like a mini-version of Uttar Pradesh. And hence has voted for the winning political party since 1974.

Sometimes things happen and then we go looking for reasons behind them, but that does not mean that those things happened because of the reasons we came up with. Allow me to explain this through a few examples.

Paulos' Theory

The mathematician John Allen Paulos talks about some stocks, mutual funds or analysts doing well over a period of time, merely by chance. As he writes in A Mathematician Plays the Stock Market: "A different argument points to the near certainty of some stocks, funds, or analysts doing well over an extended period merely by chance. Of 1,000 stocks (or funds or analysts), for example, roughly 500 might be expected to outperform the market next year simply by chance, say by the flipping of a coin."

"Of these 500, roughly 250 might be expected to do well for a second year. And of these 250, roughly 125 might be expected to continue the pattern, doing well three years in a row simply by chance. Iterating in this way, we might reasonably expect there to be a stock (or fund or analyst) among the thousand that does well for ten consecutive years by chance alone."

READ: THE HuffPost India Series Bellwether Kasganj here.

Of course, these stocks, funds or analysts, will get picked up by the media and be highlighted as bellwether stocks, funds or analysts, like Kasganj has been in the case of Uttar Pradesh elections. Reasons will be found behind as to why these stocks, funds or analysts have done well. But does that mean that these stocks, funds or analysts did well because of these reasons? Or did they simply survive because of chance alone?

How does this example fit in with what I have been discussing up until now? Kasganj having voted for the party that has won the Uttar Pradesh elections every time since 1974, has a similar dynamic to Paulos' example.

If we were to start with 1974 as the first iteration, many constituencies in Uttar Pradesh would have voted for the winning party in that assembly election. In the next assembly election in 1977, which is iteration 2, the number of constituencies voting for the winning party in the two assembly elections, would have come down. In the next assembly election in 1980, which is iteration 3, the number of constituencies voting for the winning party in the three assembly elections, would have come down even further.

Survivorship Bias

And so, the iterations worked 11 times, and by the time 2012 assembly election happened, only one constituency remained which had voted for the winning party in all the 11 assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh between 1974 and 2012.

This is similar to the dynamic explained by Paulos. Kasganj is like the stock, fund or analyst in Paulos' example, which survived, simply by chance. Economists refer to this phenomenon as the survivorship bias.

This is similar to the dynamic explained by Paulos. Kasganj is like the stock, fund or analyst in Paulos' example, which survived, simply by chance. Economists refer to this phenomenon as the survivorship bias.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb has another interesting example in his book Fooled by Randomness—The Hidden Role of Chance and Life in the Markets: "If one puts an infinite number of monkeys in front of (strongly built) typewriters, and lets them clap away, there is a certainty that one of them would come out with an exact version of the Iliad. Upon examination, this may be less interesting a concept than it appears at first: Such probability is ridiculously low. But let us carry the reasoning one step beyond."

And what is that? As Taleb writes: "Now that we have found that hero among monkeys, would any reader invest his life's savings on a bet that the monkey would write the Odyssey next?"

"If one puts an infinite number of monkeys in front of (strongly built) typewriters, and lets them clap away, there is a certainty that one of them would come out with an exact version of the Iliad."

What does this mean in the context of Kasganj? Just that the constituency has voted for the winning political party in the last 11 assembly elections, it doesn't mean that it will do so the 12th time around as well. The probability of that happening is very low. And given that there is no reason that we should be drawing any lessons from it.

(Vivek Kaul is the author of the Easy Money trilogy. He can be reached at vivek.kaul@gmail.com)

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