24/01/2017 9:13 AM IST

What The Numbers Say About Why An SP-Cong Alliance Was Unavoidable

Akhilesh needs the Congress to make up for the confounding split and push past the BJP.

Hindustan Times via Getty Images

The Samajwadi Party may not have split, but the patriach Mulayam Singh Yadav continues to indicate to his son and supporters that he is unhappy at being forced into a "mentor" role. If Mulayam's supporters do desert Akhilesh's party, recent polling data from two different pollsters indicates that an SP-Congress alliance might not just help the two parties, it might be essential to try and stave off a possible BJP win.

The political research group Lokniti (at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies) conducted a tracker poll for ABP News from December 5 through December 17, 2016 among 5932 voters in 309 locations (polling stations) spread across 65 assembly constituencies. These were the same constituencies where Lokniti had conducted the first round of the tracker survey in July-August 2016. The margin of error was +/-1.8%. The December poll captured any effect of demonetisation, but only a part-effect of the SP feuding in September-October.

The Lokniti poll found that the then undivided SP was in the lead with a 30% voteshare, but the BJP was close behind at 27%. The Congress was a distant fourth at 8% but it had seen a rise in its projected voteshare since August 2016.

If Mulayam continues to keep a distance from campaigning and his candidates are not accommodated, this could reduce the party's voteshare, and the alliance with the Congress becomes necessary for the Akhilesh Yadav faction to push the party past the BJP. While the voteshares of the two parties cannot be simply added to estimate the impact of an alliance, since some voters could turn away, the Lokniti poll found some voter support for an SP-Congress alliance.

A Huffpost-CVoter poll conducted on SP supporters in early January also found that an alliance with the Congress could help Akhilesh tide over the relatively small loss in voteshare that the split would bring. The researchers randomly selected 5,623 SP supporters across all 403 assembly segments in the first week of January and asked them whom they would vote for. They then adjusted the voteshare for all parties accordingly. The margin of error was +/-3%. They found that the Congress' 5.8% voteshare would be just enough for Akhilesh to make up for the loss of voters to his father and push the party past the BJP.

However it isn't yet clear that the feud in the SP will necessarily reduce the party's voteshare. Given Akhilesh's strong popularity it is possible that his distancing of his father could gain him some non-SP voters. Akhilesh's approval ratings as CM were higher than those for Narendra Modi as PM in UP in Lokniti's December poll, and for the first time in this term, his government was rated better than Mayawati's.

The BJP will take heart not only from its strong showing in the opinion polls, but also from its performance in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, and the fact that Modi's popularity - which propelled the party to victory, including in UP - has not dimmed significantly, according to the Lokniti poll. In 2014, the BJP swept 328 of the state's 403 assembly segments. The SP, Congress and the Rashtriya Lok Dal (the Congress' ally at the time in the state) put together could only have hypothetically won 26 of those assembly segments. However given that the BJP's performance in UP assembly elections has been on the decline, what remains to be seen is whether the state's voters chose to propel the BJP to power at the national level only, or whether something more fundamental has changed in the state.