According to the latest Times Now Cvoter Opinion Poll in battleground Bihar, the JD(U)-RJD-Congress Mahagathbandhan and the BJP+ are locked in a heavily contested and bitter fight for supremacy.
"[D]espite a slender lead for the BJP+ in the vote-share, the seat share is still evenly balanced."
The opinion poll data is constituted of a random stratified sample of 7786 interviews covering all 243 segments in the state during the second and third weeks of September 2015. The long-term trends of historical data are from CVoter's exit poll archives of 2005, 2009, 2010 and 2014 elections, as well as the Bihar Tracking Poll of 23,831 interviews conducted over the last 12 months.
For now the estimates give a whisker of an edge to BJP+ but it can hardly be of much comfort to party strategists. The projected vote-share estimates for the Bihar Polls 2015 stand as follows:
In a bipolar contest, a slight edge for one party can translate into a landslide victory, therefore from a simplistic prism one may surmise that BJP has the advantage given the vote-share projections.
However, there is a caveat: the BJP is leading heavily in the urban and semi-urban areas that contribute roughly 30% of the seats to the Bihar Vidhan Sabha. In the remaining 70% rural seats, BJP+ and RJD+ are locked in a dead heat. Therefore, despite a slender lead for the BJP+ in the vote-share, the seat share is still evenly balanced.
The seat share ranges, projected on the basis of vote-shares and their distribution, are as follows:
RJD +: 104-120
Here is a breakdown of the variables that will be important deciding factors in the outcome of battle Bihar.
The Caste/Community Factor
The Bihar Polls 2015 are clearly playing out along caste divides. Thus, it is imperative to analyse the community-wise breakdown of vote-shares and the trends inherent therein.
Dalits and Mahadalits: A substantial 57% of the Dalit electorate is trending towards BJP+ and 32% towards RJD+. Between August and September this year, BJP+ has been able to poach more Dalit votes from the "Others" category than the RJD+. BJP+ has also maintained its hold amongst the Mahadalits over the same timeframe - it is backed by 47% of Mahadalits while RJD+ has a Mahadalit support base of 34%. Both the key alliances have pulled an equal percentage of Mahadalit votes - 5% -- from the "Others" over the past four weeks.
Most Backward Castes: The RJD+ has successfully managed to whittle down the daunting lead that the BJP+ enjoyed among the MBCs in August 2015. Nonetheless, the BJP+ is still leading by a comfortable margin. The BJP+ has 50% of the vote-share, the RJD+ has 39% and Others are at 11%. The RJD+ has undergone a stupendous 10% increase in MBC vote-share over the past month (at the cost of Others), while the BJP+ has seen a milder rise of 4% vote-share.
OBCs and Yadavs: OBCs, prima facie, seem to be hitching a ride on the Lalu-Nitish bandwagon, with the RJD+ alliance boasting a vote-share of 61%, demonstrating an astonishing rise of 15% over the past four weeks. The BJP has 35% and Others are at 4%. The RJD+ has consolidated its hold over this vote bank at the cost of Others. The Yadav voters are largely leaning towards the RJD of the RJD+. The vote-share pattern for this community stands as follows: BJP+ 29%, RJD+ 67% and Others 4%. Once again, the RJD+ has managed to consolidate its hold over the Yadav voters over the past four weeks.
"The 'vote out' sentiment has risen sharply between the first and fourth weeks, with the percentage of people wanting to replace the state government increasing from 5% to 61%."
Upper Caste Hindus: For UHCs, the voting intention is the mirror image of the Yadavs'. A staggering 77% intend to vote for the BJP+, 18% for the RJD+ and 5% for Others. While the vote-share of BJP+ has consolidated over the past four weeks, RJD+ has suffered a decline in this community category.
Muslims: No other community has had such well-defined and stable voting intentions since the beginning of the election cycle. With the vote-shares of the principal alliances remaining steady over the past four weeks, 77% of Muslims intend to vote for the RJD+, 13% for the BJP+ and the rest for the Others.
Kurmis and Koiris: Kurmis constitute the social support base of Chief Minister Nitish Kumar. The political fortunes in this community have swung wildly over the course of the past four weeks. In August, 38% of the Kurmis wanted to vote for the BJP+ and 37% for the RJD+. But by September, Nitish Kumar had successfully revived the fortunes of the alliance led by him. Currently, only 29% of Kurmis intend to vote for the BJP and 61% for RJD+; Others are at 10%. Amongst the Koiris on the other hand, the BJP+ has successfully increased its lead, and enjoys a projected vote-share of 68%. The RJD+ and Others lag behind at 26% and 6% respectively.
Thakur/Rajputs and Bhumihars: The historic divide between the Thakurs and Bhumihars has often stymied the BJP+'s efforts at united spectrum of Hindu votes. But the gap between the communities has been somewhat bridged under the leadership of PM Narendra Modi. Both the communities are increasingly consolidating towards the BJP+ camp, which has a projected vote-share of 74% and 81% among the Thakurs and Bhumihars respectively; the RJD is trailing far behind at 17% and 12% and Others at 9% and 7%.
Musaharis: Musaharis or the Manjhis shot into the political centrestage with the appointment of Jitan Ram Manjhi as Chief Minister in May 2014 (his tenure lasted a mere nine months). He did manage to consolidate and create the Manjhis as a vote bank and the split of his party Hindustani Awam Morcha (HAM) from Nitish's JD(U) and its subsequent alliance with BJP+ is getting reflected in the voting intentions of the community. The projected vote division amongst the Manjhis stands at BJP+ 56%, RJD+ 29% and Others 15%
Paswans: Ram Vilas Paswan is delivering his community votes to the BJP+ fold without breaking much sweat. The strongman of Hajipur has kept his hold on the Paswan community intact, as is evident in the intention-based vote-share of the BJP at 61%, RJD+ at 32% and Others at 7%.
Kushwahas: Upendra Kushwaha is not quite matching up to the standards of Paswan and Manjhi in delivering his community votes to the BJP+ fold. With a slender lead of 4% for the BJP+ in the projected community vote-share, it is difficult to discern any leadership magic as of now. Currently, the BJP+'s intention-based vote-share among the Kushwahas is 42%, with the RJD+ a close second at 38% and Others at 20%. A month ago, the gap between the BJP+ and the RJD+ was 18%, but the RJD+ has covered much ground by eating into the projected vote-share of Others.
Moving beyond the arithmetic of castes and communities, this round of opinion polling also gave some important insights into other key issues that will impact the outcome of the elections.
Electricity supply as an electoral issue is the single largest issue at a rating level of 16%. The state of electricity supply has gained nearly 3% rating over the course of four weeks. The second-most important issue is the state of local business and employment with a rating level of 14%, although it has undergone a decline of 3% rating. The next area of significance is local schools and colleges at 9% rating level, while corruption comes fourth at 5%.
"In the fourth round of the election tracker, 59% of Biharis averred that BJP+ was better placed to resolve the state's problems..."
In the fourth round of the election tracker, 59% of Biharis averred that BJP+ was better placed to resolve the state's problems -- this constitutes a 12% jump over the BJP+ figures for the first round. The corresponding figure for RJD+ has been in the range of 31-33%, with this week registering at 33%.
The anti-incumbency factor
The "vote out" sentiment has risen sharply between the first and fourth weeks, with the percentage of people wanting to replace the state government increasing from 5% to 61%. As many as 56% of respondents are eager to see a new Chief Minister now, although only 4% expressed this desire in the first round. The corresponding figures for incumbent MLAs stand at 73%, a rise of 3%. Thus there is a distinct trend of increasing anti-incumbency sentiments as we near D-day.
A matter of leadership
In the leadership sweepstakes, Nitish Kumar continues to be the most popular. However, some of his sheen is wearing off. His current popularity stands at 47%, revealing a decline of 6% in four weeks. Sushil Modi is a distant second with an approval rating of 16%. His popularity, too, has declined by 2%. Interestingly, Jitan Ram Manjhi of HAM has emerged with an approval rating of 7%, showing a gain of 3% in popularity. Ram Vilas Paswan has also gained 3% popularity points over the course of four weeks with an approval rating of 4%.
When it comes to the question of the Prime Minister of India, more Biharis affirm the leadership of Narendra Modi in the fourth week than those who did so in the first week. His approval rating stands at 62% up from 55%. Rahul Gandhi's approval rating has declined from 11% to 10%.
When asked to name the potential winner of this election irrespective of their personal voting choice, a comfortable majority of Biharis back BJP+ to be the eventual winner at 58% rating level. Only 37% see a victory for RJD+. The figures for both BJP+ and RJD+ have risen from the first week, by 2% and 1.5% respectively.
Standard of living - present and projected
A substantial 49% of Biharis feel that their living standard has improved over the past year, while only 46% believed so in the first week. One-third of Biharis aver that their living standard has remained the same, while the rest complain of a deterioration.
"When asked to name the potential winner of this election irrespective of their personal voting choice, a comfortable majority of Biharis back BJP+ to be the eventual winner at 58% rating level."
Looking into the future, 76% of Biharis feel optimistic about their living standard in the coming year, though this number reflects a 4% dip from the first week. There's a corresponding increase of 4% in the number of people - 15% -- who believe that their standard of living will decline in the same time period. These figures reveal two things: the great weight of expectations on the new government, and also the fickle nature of public sentiment on something as long term as anticipated living standards.
"The state is moving forward and so is my life," is how 57% of respondents describe the state of affairs in today's Bihar. This support level for a dynamic Bihar and its citizenry is an important pointer for election analysis. There is clearly a constituency for aspirational politics in Bihar that relishes the feeling of an evolving society and a state that captures social mobility in terms that transcend traditional caste politics.
The overall trend captured in this week's election tracker is that -- in public perception at least -- the BJP+ is succeeding at absorbing the "Others" into its fold. Both for perceived problem-solving abilities and winnability, the BJP+ has made gains at the cost of Others. How much these gains in public perception translate into vote-share and seat-share is yet to be seen.