In pre-poll surveys ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha election, as in the past, voters in different states exhibit a wide range of relative satisfaction with local and central representatives. But when they are voting in a parliamentary election, do voters know how to compartmentalise their anger?
For the most part, satisfaction or dissatisfaction with government runs like a common thread across a state. States that are largely dissatisfied with the central government are largely dissatisfied with their state governments too, according to data from CVoter’s daily tracking poll accessed most recently on April 20, and a March 2019 pre-poll survey conducted by the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies.
States like Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh are dissatisfied across all levels, while most other states are broadly satisfied with both state and central governments. However, there is a lot more nuance.
According to the CSDS pre-poll survey conducted in March 2019, in Opposition-ruled states including Kerala, Punjab, West Bengal, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, Delhi, Telangana, Chhattisgarh and Odisha, voters were happier with their state government’s performance than that of the Bharatiya Janata Party-led central government.
In some other non-BJP states like Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh, net satisfaction with the central government was higher but the point was moot: both figures were net negatives as the incumbent state government is vastly unpopular.
The implication is that the only states where voters are happier with the Centre than with the state government are states that are anyway ruled by the BJP. Either way, the news is not great for the ruling party.
In the CVoter tracking poll, the results were more mixed. The poll showed the central government to be more popular than the state government in several Opposition-ruled states.
In states where the ruling non-BJP party is more popular than the central government, will voters vote as they would in a state election, or will their preference for their state representatives not have an impact on a national election?
It is difficult to say.
Voters vote along a similar common bouquet of issues traditionally in state and central elections, with some major exceptions, an analysis of CSDS post-election studies for state and central elections show.
Voters typically tend to assign far more responsibility to the state government than to the central government, which can mean that both credit and blame is laid at the door of the state government more than is due. In a post-2014 Lok Foundation-Oxford University survey administered by the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy, nearly 50% of respondents credited the state government for the benefits received from a government programme, even though the majority of programmes identified by them were centrally driven.
Similarly, in a 2014 post-poll CSDS survey, far more voters who had benefited from flagship schemes of the United Progressive Alliance government like the Indira Awas Yojana, the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme and the National Rural Health Mission credited the state government for it rather than the central government. But as such, respondents ascribed greater importance to the prime ministerial candidate than to the state level leadership in making their vote choice.
To a direct question, respondents in most states in the CSDS March 2019 survey said that the performance of both state and central governments would matter for their final decision.
It is clear that in some states the BJP and its allies are in trouble. In Tamil Nadu, the incumbent All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, which has allied with the BJP for the Lok Sabha elections, is poorly rated by voters, as is the National Democratic Alliance government at the Centre.
In BJP-ruled states like Haryana and Gujarat, both the state and central governments are rated well by respondents in the March 2019 CSDS survey, implying overall positivity for the party. But in states like Chhattisgarh and Odisha, where the non-BJP state government is rated well and so is the BJP-led central government, it could mean that voters will vote differently in state and parliamentary elections.
The CVoter poll didn’t always point in the same direction. The poll asks respondents what level of government they would want to change immediately. A large share had no response, but of those who responded, the central government was the most popular choice. However, unlike in the CSDS poll, some non-BJP governments in states like Odisha, Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh were seen as unpopular and respondents would like to see them changed.
Voters also draw distinctions between the national BJP government’s performance and the local BJP member of parliament’s performance. In states like Bihar, Delhi, Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh, voters in the March 2019 CSDS survey gave poor ratings to the local BJP MPs.
CVoter’s tracking poll finds similar trends, though not for Chhattisgarh. Bihar MPs are particularly rated poorly despite positive sentiment in the state for the central government. The party will need to hope that its candidate selection works this time, or that voters choose party over candidate. In its 2014 post-poll survey, CSDS found that voters said that the PM candidate mattered more than the local candidate, and in 2019 Modi’s popularity remains strong other than in South India.
Political parties know, better than anyone else, how much the campaign matters. There are state leadership unpopularities to smooth over, candidates to tweak and messaging to fine-tune. Parties might find that it is a local, state and national election all rolled into one.
Read the full series: How India Votes