If you looked at it purely from a binary win-lose point of view, not much seems to have changed in Gujarat. The Bharatiya Janata Party is still on course to win in the upcoming state assembly elections, as it has done for two decades now, despite the noise that the Opposition and local community leaders have managed to make. A closer look at the latest ABP-Lokniti-CSDS election survey, however, reveals much happening beneath the surface that should worry the saffron party.
Take voting intention, which is seen as a proxy for likely vote share. When Lokniti-CSDS surveyed likely Gujarat voters in the first half of August 2017, they found that the BJP was likely to get nearly 60% of the vote. When the same survey was done in the last week of October however, that number had come down to 47%, with the entire 12% gain going to the Congress.
Overall voting intention figures still heavily favour the BJP – there are six percentage points between it and the Congress – but such a massive swing in just over two months suggests a major shift, one that could still gather momentum ahead of polls which begin only on December 9.
For context, here is the vote share percentage in Gujarat state assembly elections over the last three decades. The BJP has, especially in the last decade and a half, cemented a comfortably consistent lead over the Congress.
At the very least this suggests that anecdotal evidence and media reporting about the closest fight in the state in years is being reflected in survey figures as well. This is important in particular because of the lesson of Uttar Pradesh. In that election, earlier in 2017, anecdotal evidence and reportage seemed to suggest that the Congress-Samajwadi Party combine would be a formidable competitor against the BJP. Yet, when the final results were announced, the saffron party comfortably swept the state, raising questions about the media reporting that did not seem to entirely reflect the scale of support for the BJP.
A similar impression has emerged from Gujarat in the last month and a half particularly, alongside reports of dissatisfaction with the implementation of the Goods and Services Tax. The trader class in Gujarat in particular was hit hard both by demonetisation and GST, prompting the Centre and state to announce a number of sops in an attempt to quell the disaffection.
Nevertheless, as per Lokniti-CSDS’ figures, more and more people in Gujarat are unhappy with the Goods and Services Tax.
It is important to remember that there is no direct analogue to voting results: Voters who are deeply unhappy with GST may nevertheless vote for the BJP, if they believe it serves other purposes or there is no other option. Moreover, other polls still show the BJP in a better situation.
But Lokniti-CSDS’ survey is useful in charting out changes in public opinion over the course of the last few months. The falling support for GST, for example, seems to be one of the many things that is also affecting people’s opinions of the Centre and the state’s governance records. Between May and October, satisfaction with Central governance has fallen from 75% to 54%. Figures for the state suggest a similar drop.
The Lokniti-CSDS goes into many more details, looking at trader unhappiness with the BJP, the popularity of the Congress’ ‘Vikas Gando Thayo Chhe’ (Development gone crazy) campaign and the persistent support of women for the saffron party. Among these data points is one that is new to the survey, since it is based on a news report from October 8.
The Wire had published a story pointing out a huge increase in revenue for a company owned by Jay Shah, son of BJP President Amit Shah, which also raised questions about numerous loans that his other companies had received. The BJP promptly trotted out Cabinet ministers among others to defend Jay Shah while also filing a defamation case against the news organisation for its report.
Lokniti-CSDS’ survey finds that, despite the BJP’s attempts to defend Jay Shah and the defamation case, a substantial number of people – including nearly 50% of traditional BJP voters – think an inquiry is needed into the workings of the firm owned by Amit Shah’s son.