A HuffPo-CVoter survey in Uttar Pradesh shows if assembly elections were held today, the Bhartiya Janata Party and the Samajwadi Party would be locked neck and neck, winning around 134-150 seats each. That would mean no party would get a clear majority in the 403-seat strong assembly.
The Mayawati-led Bahujan Samaj Party would get between 95 and 111 seats. Since 2002, the state has seen governments alternate between the SP and the BSP. However, the survey suggests that cycle could be disrupted, and the SP could be substantially ahead of the BSP.
The survey was conducted between 1st and 31st August, using a random stratified sample of 20,642 respondents across all 403 constituencies.
The speeding cycle
The survey shows the Samajwadi Party getting almost the same vote-share as the BJP: between 27% and 28%. On Akhilesh Yadav's performance as chief minister, a very high 61% said they were happy. On specific governance issues, 51% expressed satisfaction. Water and electricity supply and the performance of state ministers received an approval rating of over 5/10, but the highest rating was for his personal performance as chief minister--7.7/10. The lowest rating was for law and order (3.5/10).
Akhilesh Yadav has been successfully able to create an image of himself as an administrator separate form that of his party. No wonder that he emerges as the most desired chief ministerial candidate (32.8%).
Yet, when specifically asked if they would like to change the current government, 59% said yes. That may suggest high anti-incumbency, but it is significant that 35% respondents did not feel the need to change the government. In a four-cornered contest, that is a significant number, giving the SP an edge.
The survey shows over 50% Muslim voters still prefer the Samajwadi Party, and more Brahmins (14%) want to vote SP than the BSP (10%) or Congress (10%). The party's core vote base, Yadavs, is still with it, or at least 66% of them.
The blooming but faceless lotus
Since the last assembly election in 2012, the biggest beneficiary is the BJP, increasing its vote-share from 15% to 28%. That gain, however, is a loss from the stupendous 2014 performance of the party, when it won 42.30% votes in the Lok Sabha elections.
The 2014 Modi wave is clearly not seeing the BJP home this time, although the survey found a whopping 73% approval rating for prime minister Modi's performance. What's hurting the BJP is the lack of a chief ministerial candidate. While 26% respondents were willing to vote for any BJP leader, 28.2% preferred Mayawati and 32.8% preferred Akhilesh Yadav. These numbers for the figures of Akhilesh Yadav and Mayawati are a few points more than that of their parties.
The BJP's advantage is that it has been able to hold on to its upper caste votes and OBC votes, though it is losing the Dalit votes it won in the 2014 elections. Of Brahmin voters surveyed, 54% said they would vote for the BJP. Similarly, most Kumrmi/Koeri, Lodh, Jaat, Gujjar, Nishad, Saini and Teli voters said they would vote for the BJP.
To consolidate these votes, the BJP could do with a chief ministerial candidate. Trouble is, the BJP has leaders that are popular in different parts of the state: Yogi Adityanath in east UP, Varun Gandhi in Awadh and Uma Bharti in western UP. The lack of a face that would be acceptable across UP is a problem the BJP would find hard to overcome.
The elephant drags its feet
The HuffPo-CVoter survey shows the Mayawati-led BSP consolidating Dalit votes, winning 72% of the significant Jatav vote, and the largest chunk of non-Jatav Dalit votes too. But with only 22% Muslims and 10% Brahmins willing to vote for the BSP, the elephant is as yet unable to leave others behind.
Since Brahmins are sticking with the BJP for now, the BSP is unable to project win-ability to the electorate. As a result, Muslims are by and large choosing to stick with the Samajwadi Party. Another key factor behind past BSP victories, the lower OBC vote, is largely going with the BJP.
Mayawati is thus left in a 90's-like situation, where her vote-share is stagnating at around 25%, and unable to make the jump nearing 30% that would see her as chief minister.
She still remains a popular choice for chief minister (28.2%) more than "any BJP leader" (26%). Mayawati will have to desperately win over Muslims and Brahmins to make a leap for UP 2017.
The hand that is yet to rise
The survey has bad news for the Congress, which is seeing its vote-share decline substantially from 11.63% in 2012 to only 6.19% in this survey. This vote-share may not translate into more than 5 to 13 seats, down from the 28 seats it has in the current assembly.
Only 5% voters would like to see Sheila Dikshit as the state's chief minister. Despite her being a Brahmin daughter-in-law of the state, only 10.8% Brahmins want to vote for her. Even the Samajwadi Party is getting more approval (14%). The Congress' highest rating amongst any group is with Gujjars, only 20%, followed by Telis (15.6%) and Muslims (12.6%).
Since Sheila Dikshit was announced as CM candidate only in mid-July, this is perhaps a bit early to judge if the Congress' strategy is working. But the party is so far behind that it is highly unlikely it would be able to leave its number 4 slot. However, if the party were to ally with the SP or the BSP, the election could take a decisive turn in favour of that party, as it would stop the division of Muslim votes.
The actual 2017 election is five months away, and the HuffPo-CVoter survey is only reflective of how voters felt in August 2016. Significantly, voters these days give clear and decisive mandates--they whole-heartedly chose Mayawati in 2007, gave most seats to Congress in Lok Sabha 2009, a thumping majority to Akhilesh Yadav in 2012 and a near-complete sweep for the BJP in 2014.
The survey result showing a hung assembly is reflective of the ongoing churn on the ground, rather than a prediction for March 2017.
As all parties make their best efforts, the months to come could change the current sentiment several times over.
The survey used an error margin of +/- 3% at the state level and +/- 5% at the regional level.