Thinking Aloud: “India’s 2014 General Election: A Preview,” Part II

Apr. 9, 2014 by Darius 

[Earlier this week, Indians began voting in the biggest election ever.  Voting will continue until next month, with results set to be announced May 16.  Yesterday I saw a panel discussion about the election.  Two of the panelists, Sadanand Dhume of the American Enterprise Institute and Bruce Stokes of the Pew Research Center, provided a number of interesting insights about the Indian election, its background, and how events may play out.  Yesterday, I brought you Dhume’s comments about the frontrunner of this election, Narendra Modi, and what this election might mean for the future of Indian elections.  Today, I’ll share Stokes’s polling data from India, which sheds light on this election and many issues beyond.]

According to Bruce Stokes from the Pew Research Center, all the polling data from India is clear on one point:  Indians are in a very sour mood because of the state of the economy and the state of the government.  In fact, 70% of Indians are dissatisfied with the current direction of the country.  Two-thirds of Indians feel that political deadlock is a major problem facing India today.  Faith in state institutions is incredibly weak: the only institution people have faith in is the military.

Most Indians, though, still believe in the future.  About 70% of Indians think the economy will improve and that their children’s lives will be better.

When one delves into the data for political parties, one quickly finds the Congress Party (the party that has been in power almost continuously since Indian independence) to be in serious trouble.  A substantial 63% of voters would prefer the next government to be led by the BJP.  That doesn’t mean that 63% of Indians will vote for the BJP; many will vote for regional parties and hope the regional parties enter a coalition with the BJP.

Support for the BJP is across the board.  Indians prefer the BJP to the Congress Party by a nearly two-to-one ratio on economic issues, including development and corruption.  Even more worryingly for Congress, Indians feel the BJP would do a better job at helping the poor, traditionally one of Congress’s main talking points.  Young Indians especially lean towards the BJP.

Support for the BJP also cuts across the rural/urban divide.  Congress’s voting base was traditionally Indian villages; now, many of these villagers support the BJP.  Congress’s leaders can be rather perplexed at this trend: in the same breath that rural voters announce their support for the BJP, they also announce their support for a number of important social welfare programs instituted by the Congress Party.  In other words, rural voters support the program but not the party.

That isn’t to say that the Congress Party has little support.  In fact, the leader of the Congress Party, Rahul Gandhi, enjoys an approval rating most Western politicians would blush at: 50%.  Congress’s problem lies in the fact that BJP leader Narendra Modi has an approval rating of 78%.

How do Indians feel about foreign policy?  According to opinion polls, Indians don’t particularly like Pakistan but acknowledge that India and Pakistan must work together.  A majority (57%) of Indians hold a favorable view towards the US.  The nation that really attracts the animosity of Indians is China.

As a word of caution, Stokes noted that polls in India don’t tell the whole story.  In many cases, people profess support for one party but may not ultimately vote for that party – perhaps their family “always” votes a certain way, or they vote for the party that got their sister a job, etc.

Although voting is already underway, India votes region by region.  The results of the world’s largest election will not be announced until May 16.

[For yesterday’s post, on Narendra Modi, see https://notwhatyoumightthink.wordpress.com/2014/04/08/thinking-aloud-indias-2014-general-election-a-preview-part-i/.%5D

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