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The Nuanced View: 10 Things To Discern From Bihar Exit Polls

06/11/2015 1:12 PM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST
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DIPTENDU DUTTA via Getty Images
Indian female voters queue to cast their ballots at a voting centre in the final stage of state assembly elections in the Bihar village of Thakurganj in Kishanganj district on November 5, 2015. India's poorest state of Bihar is voting in a high-stakes election which Prime Minister Narendra Modi hopes will help his government push through a faltering reform drive. AFP PHOTO/Diptendu DUTTA (Photo credit should read DIPTENDU DUTTA/AFP/Getty Images)

The Cvoter exit poll* predicts a photo finish in the electoral race for Bihar, with the Mahagathbandhan (MGB) enjoying a slight edge with a projected vote-share of 42%; close on its heels is the BJP-led national Democratic Alliance (NDA) with 41%. However, these projections are predicated on a vote share-gap that is well within the range of statistical error, which means that the apparent edge of the MGB is not a very comfortable one. Here are some of our key takeaways from the Bihar exit poll.

Here are some of our key takeaways from the Bihar exit poll.

1. Social coalitions reign supreme

In essence, Bihar 2015 is a battle between social coalitions stitched by the BJP-led NDA and the Mahagathbandhan (composed of the Rashtriya Janta Dal, Janata Dal United and Indian National Congress). There is no uniform trend across all communities. Regardless of the discourse about RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat's apparent stance against reservation or the minority reservation plank of the MGB, the election in Bihar has centred on the social coalitions of respective alliances. The theory that Bhagwat's statement seriously damaged the BJP's chances is belied by the Dalit, Mahadalit and EBC vote-share gained by the party in the exit poll. Castes and communities have pivoted around the political outfits most amenable to their circumstances and aspirations.

"Any loss for NDA would be more on account of a negative campaign or the state of the economy rather than caste dynamics emanating from the RSS chief's statement."

Any loss for NDA would be more on account of a negative campaign or the state of the economy rather than caste dynamics emanating from the RSS chief's statement.

2. A sum of regional verdicts

Both the NDA and MGB are doing well in their particular regions that overlapped with electoral phases. The final verdict will be a sum total of regional verdicts. Bihar verdict 2015 will be dictated by regional verdicts from Mithila, Bhojpur, Anga, Tirhut and so on. In the absence of a state-wide sweep or concentration of votes, the final result in Bihar -- no matter how lopsided it may appear in terms of seats -- will be a close one in terms of vote-shares.

narendra modi bihar

3. Vote-share and the MGB's rural advantage

The vote-share projections for the NDA and MGB are very close at 41% and 42% respectively. However, historically, the NDA has had a geographically concentrated vote-share -- owing to its upper caste vote bank, it has in the past scored well in urban and semi-urban areas of Bihar. In other words, the natural catchment of the BJP voter is concentrated around urban and semi-urban areas. In rural areas, the NDA's influence stands dissipated due to fragmentation of its traditional supporters. Thus, in light of the traditional geographic concentration of NDA vote-share, the MGB may have a slight edge in case of similar vote-shares.

4. Local issues matter more than national ones

Bihar 2015 rightly is being considered by many commentators as a referendum on national issues and the state of the nation. The cold political reality, however, contradicts this line of thought, barring the minority vote that may get swayed to an extent by the national discourse. All other sections of the electorate are being guided by local and community issues.

nitish bihar election

5. From M-Y to M-Y-K

Lalu Yadav's M-Y (Muslim-Yadav) has transformed into M-Y-K (Muslim-Yadav-Kurmi). Nitish Kumar has succeeding in synergising the Kurmis with M-Y, the result being voting preferences of 84%, 70% and 60% respectively for Muslims, Yadavs and Kurmis for the MGB. It is clear that the MGB alliance has delivered in terms of drawing upon its traditional voting catchment. The morphing of Lalu Yadav's M-Y alliance to M-Y-K has put the MGB's pre-poll campaign worries to rest. In fact in our opinion poll we had expressed a doubt on the political maths of the MGB overcoming the chemistry of the alliance, but it seems as if they pulled it off in this case.

" [M]arginal seats can go in favour of one alliance or the other unidirectionally. These 80-odd seats will decide the fate of Bihar polls 2015 because of their susceptibility to last-minute swings."

6. BJP's Dalit/Mahadalit/MBC success

The NDA has managed to attract Dalits and Mahadalits to its fold, thus reinforcing the rainbow social alliance witnessed in the 2014 Lok Sabha election. At that time, the BJP's winning over of the Dalits, a feat that was considered impossible, had surprised all political pundits. In this election, with a voting preference of 49% and 46% for Dalits and Mahadalits, it is clear that not only is the BJP holding on to its new found Dalit base but has also added Mahadalits to it courtesy ex-CM Jitan Ram Manjhi. In addition, the NDA is also threatening to best the MGB amongst the Most Backward Castes (MBCs), with a voting preference of 43% in favour of the BJP-led alliance.

7. MGB's Muslim advantage

At 84% preference for MGB, Muslims have proven to be the staunchest supporters of this alliance amongst all castes and communities. Minority polarisation is complete and utterly one-sided in favour of MGB. If there is one section of the electorate that has maintained steadfast voting intentions through the pre-poll and campaigning phases it is the Muslims. In fact in case the MGB wins this election, the Muslim vote and turnout may prove to be the tie-breaker in an otherwise evenly matched bout of social coalitions.

8.Marginal seats could swing either way

The social coalitions led by the MGB and NDA are evenly matched in about 80-odd seats. These marginal seats test the predictive powers of Indian psephology and currently even the best statistical tools and political analyses will be hard pressed to call them in a particular direction! Thus, considering the outcomes to be equal probability events with random distribution we have called out these seats accordingly. This, however, does not discount the fact that marginal seats can also go in favour of one alliance or the other unidirectionally. These 80-odd seats will decide the fate of Bihar polls 2015 because of their susceptibility to last-minute swings. Marginal seats in any given election are susceptible to last minute pulls and pressures of the electoral kind. Hence, with similar vote-shares, we tend to observe different outcomes in close elections.

"Ultimately, the story of Bihar, irrespective of the winning alliance, is about the emergence of the BJP as an independent pole of politics."

9. BJP's performance was better than expected

The BJP narrative is remarkably diffident about its electoral achievement in Bihar. Ever since the Lok Sabha election 2014 we have observed a trend of about 10% decrease in the vote-share of BJP in successive Vidhan Sabha elections. However in Bihar, not only it is bucking that trend but as per the exit poll projections, the BJP is increasing its vote-share by 2%. Further to that, the MGB started with a cumulative vote-share of 45% as per the traditional constituents' vote-share. The BJP, on the other hand, was looking at a realistic vote-share in the mid 30s if one were to discount the Lok Sabha 2014 vote-share. Thus to be able to catapult its vote-share to more than 40% and to give the MGB such a close contest is a very worthy achievement by the BJP.

Bihar Exit Polls 2015 roundup

The keenly fought Bihar 2015 Vidhan Sabha election was arguably the most competitive electoral battle in the recent past, with evenly matched social coalitions (with the MGB enjoying a slight edge), campaigning firepower and political strategy. It must also be noted that the amount of acrimony and cloak and dagger politics on display was bewildering. Eventually, the winner of this battle will be the side with more nerves and more organised booth strategy.

Ultimately, the story of Bihar, irrespective of the winning alliance, is about the emergence of the BJP as an independent pole of politics. Bihar, like Maharashtra and Haryana, was a state where the BJP was destined to play second fiddle in perpetuity. The BJP called Shiv Sena's bluff in Maharashtra and the Chautala clan's in Haryana to reset the polity of these states. Similarly in Bihar it has never contested the state Vidhan Sabha election as a senior partner prior to 2015. The emergence of the BJP as a single largest party has changed the narrative of Bihar forever. According to the exit poll data, BJP's social base has now expanded to include Upper Castes, Dalits, Mahadalits and EBCs. The youth (18-22 age group) has voted across caste lines, and going into the future we may very well witness a caste-neutral voting trend even in the traditional MGB catchment.

Demographic Voting Preferences

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* Random stratified sample of 35000+ interviews covering all 243 segments in the state during the polling days. Long-term trends of historical data from @cvoterindia exit polls archives of 2005, 2009, 2010 and 2014 elections and Bihar Tracking Poll. Margin of error in vote-share calculation is +/-3% at state level and +/- 5% at regional level.

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