Public Affairs Round-up - MSLGROUP in India - February 2014


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As India strides towards the general election, the media and corporations are in overdrive trying to understand how the country will vote. Based on these projections are critical investments and other business decisions.
In the past few months, our television screens and newspaper front pages have been filled with pre-election surveys predicting seat share and impact on policy. Their results vary vastly, depending upon the methodology, the sample and timing.
In this edition of MSLGROUP in India’s ‘Public Affairs Round-up’ (PAR), Sanjeev Singh, a veteran in the art of the pre-election survey, writes about its evolution in India and the science behind it. Singh, the director of the Centre for Empowerment Studies, details the challenges in India and also compares them to those faced in the US.
We also analyse the passing of the Lokpal Bill and tell stories through numbers related to the election.
This edition is part of our ‘Voice of India 2014’, an insights programme based on the Lok Sabha poll. It will include infographics, blogs, editions of PAR, and much more.

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Public Affairs Round-up - MSLGROUP in India - February 2014

  1. 1. MSLGROUP IN INDIA Public Affairs Round-up February 2014 | Vol 2 | Issue 1 Pre-Election Surveys in India Pg. 2 Lokpal Bill: Corruption on business’, voters’ minds Pg. 5 Number View Pg. 7
  2. 2. PRE-ELECTION SURVEYS IN INDIA The Russian literary giant Leo Tolstoy said that the only way to bring about a fundamental change in society is to effect a change in public opinion, a change in people’s minds. For this, of course, an accurate understanding of that opinion is critical. As the general election fast approaches, political parties, the media and businesses - both local and multinational - are anxious to get their finger on India’s pulse. Pre-election surveys - or opinion polls, as they are popularly known - are barometers of the national mood, and many politicians, corporations and virtually all leading media houses are engaging research agencies to conduct them. The objective is to get a sense of what is on voters’ minds and what will happen after the election - the nature of the next government, the policies it is likely to follow, the impact on business Running against popular perception, the poll predicted a solid victory for the Congress (I). Sanjeev Singh, Director, Centre for Empowerment Studies The early days Pre-poll surveys first made an appearance in India in the late 1970s, but gained momentum only after the television news explosion in the late 1980s and the early 1990s. Once restricted to the strategy teams of political parties, the surveys soon caught the attention of the television audience. No one took them seriously – until the election results vindicated them. Pre-election surveys were here to stay and Roy, considered one of the pioneers of television news in India, became the face of opinion polls in the ’80s and the ’90s. However, the credit for the first published opinion poll in India goes to Oxford-trained economist Eric da Costa, who conducted the first such survey before the 1957 elections. But his predictions for the 1967 Lok Sabha election were way off the mark, which led to an erosion of trust in the science. It was in 1980 that India saw the emergence of media-sponsored opinion polls when two young economists, Prannoy Roy and Ashok Lahiri, teamed up with two young market researchers, Dorab Sopariwala and KMS Titoo Ahluwalia, to conduct a poll for ‘India Today’ magazine. photo by How it’s done photo by To explain opinion polls, let us simplify the process. The science and the models used are primarily imports from the West, especially the US, and focus on three things: 1. Selection of respondents and interviewers: As in the US, the methodology in India ensures that the people conducting the polls do not have any ulterior motives in selecting/rejecting respondents (the sample). The process, called ‘random selection’, ensures that the organisation conducting the poll makes its choices without bias. 2. How to record people’s opinions: In India, it is done by 2
  3. 3. meeting people in their homes and conducting face-toface discussions. Their views are recorded on paper. 3. The analysis: Again, the process is similar to that in the US, where vote shares are estimated and seat counts projected. This is a very scientific approach that uses complex formulae and algorithms to crunch data. However, despite using global best practices, such methodologies have their limitations in India. This is due to the cultural differences between the two societies. These include: 1. The US is more individualistic: In the US, individual opinions are encouraged and hence there is great diversity of views even in small communities. India, on the other hand, is a pluralistic society in which conformity to social norms is expected. Opinions in India are largely influenced by the views of communities or castes as a whole. With social change – catalysed by the information explosion – sweeping across urban areas, India too is witnessing individualistic thinking in pockets. This gradual transition makes the job of a pollster even more challenging. 2. Indians are more emotional: Collectively speaking, Indians tend to be less harsh while expressing their views and often say what they think the interviewer wants to hear. Hence, assessing the ‘undercurrent’ – their actual view – can be tough. 3. Differences in the democratic process: There is a huge difference in the electoral processes of India and the US. In India, vote shares and seats have a complex relationship unlike in the US, where you first have primaries and then the actual election. Here, we have a ‘first past the post system’. This allows for parties to increase their seat count despite a drop in their vote shares. For example, in the recent Delhi Legislative Assembly elections, the seat count of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) increased from 23 to 31 even though its vote share declined by 3% to 33.07%. It’s a bumpy road With coalition politics taking deep root, the challenge before research agencies has got more daunting. Most analysts hide behind the refrain ‘no two elections are the all pollsters correctly predicted that the BJP would replace the Congress, they differed on the extent of the rout the latter would face. No failure is more glaring than the one of the pre-election surveys of 2004. All the polls conducted by mainstream media predicted the continuation of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government. However, internal surveys revealed an interesting insight: “While voters were happy with the governance of the NDA, they felt the journey has started and needs to be continued. Everyone felt it is too early to celebrate and boast of achievements. Moreover, the fruits of development were yet to reach the rural hinterlands, although there were hopes that within the next five years rural India will also benefit...” This insight photo by new leadtech.inblog same’. Game-changers can crop up almost overnight. For example, the Aam Aadmi Party, which formed the government in Delhi, didn’t even exist till a year earlier. Hence, pre-election surveys can often be off the mark. While they are generally right in predicting a proestablishment mood – as was the case with the recent Madhya Pradesh Assembly polls – they can at times fail to gauge the extent of the anti-establishment mood, as was the case with the recent Rajasthan Assembly polls. While 3
  4. 4. was used by the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) to counter the NDA’s ‘India Shining’ campaign and the term ‘aam admi’ (common man) became a rallying cry. The campaign used telling visuals from rural India to make its point. This helped the Congress consolidate its vote bank, especially in the villages and among society’s weaker sections. The NDA’s subsequent loss was a shock to pollsters, journalists and political analysts. Applying the science correctly The failure of 2004 raised many questions. How can the views of a mere 7,000, 10,000 or 15,000 people be enough to gauge the view of a nation comprising a billion people, asked political parties, journalists and analysts. The truth, however, is that polling is a science and with the proper use of tools even a small sample can open your eyes to a country’s larger thought process. The key is to apply the science properly. Research organisations today have developed proprietary tools and techniques to overcome the hurdles. 1. Selection of the sample is holistic and ensures all sections of society are represented adequately to register even the slightest hint of a decisive undercurrent. 2. We predict, but don’t project seats. This might seem like semantic sleight of hand, but there is a difference between the two. Think of seat projection as seeing a picture (static) and trying to tell a story. Predictions, on the other hand, are about creating a series of pictures (dynamic) and then telling the story. The latter, obviously, is a more holistic story. This is important in a country where voter opinions themselves are highly dynamic. 3. Agencies use advanced statistical techniques and tools that have been applied in precision-dependent environments, such as missile technology. 4. We gauge sentiments and mindsets. Sensitivity indices assess how sensitive people are towards a party, a leader or an issue. This helps agencies dig deeper into voters’ minds and map their true voting intent. Tolstoy, with whom we started, was asked how public opinion can be changed. “It is only necessary for people to say what they really think or at least refrain from saying what they do not think,” he asserted. There may well be different opinions about opinion polls themselves, but there is no doubt about the need to gauge the mood of the people in a vibrant democracy like India. Views expressed are based on the author’s 15 years of experience in conducting opinion polls in India and across South-East Asia. He is available at 4
  5. 5. Policy Roadmap Lokpal Bill: Corruption on business’, voters’ minds An anti-corruption Bill widely condemned as inadequate was passed by the government in December 2011. The Lokpal Bill was formulated after negotiations with social crusader Anna Hazare, who had launched an agitation for it. However, many felt that the Bill reneged on the promises made to Hazare and had been watered down. On December 17, 2013, an amended Lokpal Bill was passed by the Rajya Sabha (the upper house of Parliament) to mixed reactions. An important feature of this Bill was the independence granted to states to set up their own Lokayuktas, or authorities presiding over corruption cases, and autonomy for the Central Bureau of Investigation. photo by Amid this drama, a battle of political opportunism broke out between the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), each claiming credit for the Bill. With the general election around the corner – corruption is a central issue – and the rise of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), an offshoot of Hazare’s crusade, the party credited with passing the Bill stands to gain substantially. So anxious were political parties to claim the credit that each one of them suggested changes to make it more effective. In the Rajya Sabha, the Trinamool Congress, the Janata Dal (United), the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam all extended support unconditionally. Even the Samajwadi Party, which had strongly opposed the Bill earlier, kept away during the proceedings. The BJP said it favoured passage of the Bill without even a discussion in Parliament, while AAP chief Arvind Kejriwal – who was sworn in as chief minister of Delhi after his party’s spectacular showing – told the media: “The government is pushing the Bill so that Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi gets credit for it.” The Lokpal Bill had been one of the longest pending legislations in India. It was first introduced in the Lok Sabha (the lower house of Parliament) in 1968 and, only after eight unsuccessful attempts, did popular opinion force the government’s hand in 2011. The Assembly poll results – in which the BJP retained power in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, and wrested Rajasthan away from the Congress while the AAP took over in Delhi – have sparked great introspection among parties. photo by The United Progressive Alliance (UPA), which has been under fire because of slowing growth and the proliferation of scams, has responded by trying to appropriate the anti-corruption debate. Gandhi has been at the forefront of the battle for a stronger anti-graft law, making corruption a central campaign 5
  6. 6. issue. He is also pressing hard to convince other parties to unite on this “matter of national importance”. local corporations have found files and permits blocked by bureaucrats demanding kickbacks. Earlier, the Congress rhetoric was centred on poverty – it announced various pro-poor initiatives, such as the Food Security Bill – whereas the BJP focused on development and mocking the UPA’s performance. Neither connected with the middle class and its growing anger. AAP was quick to realise this and crafted a strong anti-corruption pitch to win over voters. Observers point out that while the Lokpal Bill is far from perfect, creating the mechanism was important Additionally, the government needs to give serious attention to related legislation pending in Parliament, such as the Whistleblowers Protection Bill (2011), the Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill (2010), the Right of Citizens to Time-Bound Delivery of Goods and Services and Redressal of their Grievances Bill (2011), the Prevention of Corruption (Amendment) Bill (2013), the Public Procurement Bill (2012), and the Prevention of Bribery of Foreign Public Officials and Officials of Public International Organisations Bill (2011). Today, it’s become impossible to woo middle-class votes without a strong anti-corruption message. The issue is not just on voters’ minds. Businesses too have been affected by the endemic corruption; multinationals and 1968 Lokpal Bill introduced by Advocate Shanti Bhushan. Between then and 2001, the Bill is introduced eight times but is always withdrawn or lapses 2002 Justice MN Venkatachaliah-led Consititution Review Commission stresses need for Lokpal and Lokayuktas 2004 UPA 1’s national common minimum programme promises Lokpal 2011 • January: UPA 2’s empowered group of ministers headed by Pranab Mukherjee suggests range of anticorruption measures, including Lokpal Bill • April: Anna Hazare begins fast at Jantar Mantar, New Delhi, for Jan Lokpal Bill. Hazare relents after government forms joint drafting committee comprising ministers and civil society members • August: Government introduces Lokpal Bill, which is widely attacked as flawed. Hazare launches second fast • December: Government reintroduces Lokpal and Lokayukta Bill (2011). Lok Sabha passes it 2012 Bill reintroduced in Rajya Sabha, referred to select committee 2013 In December, Hazare fasts again. Amended Bill passed by both houses 2014 Bill receives Presidential assent in January Sources: Wikipedia, The Times of India, Forbes India photo by 6
  7. 7. Number View 8,00,000 Number of polling stations likely to be set up for the forthcoming Lok Sabha elections, according to Election Commission 12,00,000 Number of electronic voting machines likely to be deployed by the Election Commission. An additional 2,50,000 are being sourced by midFebruary, according to Election Commission Rs 500 crore ($80 million approx) Amount being spent by the Congress on its campaign and on polishing the image of party vice-president Rahul Gandhi before the election. If the United Progressive Alliance retains power, Gandhi is likely to be prime minister Rs 33,000 crore ($5.3 billion approx) Value of projects that the Prime Minister’s Office aims to clear in order to give the UPA a leg up before the elections and shed the perception of policy paralysis 44 Percentage of voters who said they would vote for the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in a survey conducted by ‘The Times of India’ and Ipsos across major cities. As for prime ministerial preferences, 58% picked the Bharatiya Janata Party’s Narendra Modi, 25% AAP’s Arvind Kejriwal and 14% the Congress’ Rahul Gandhi Voter turnout in the last two decedes Year 1996 1998 1999 2004 2009 2014 Turnout (%) 57.94 61.97 59.99 57.65 58.19 65-70 (Projected) Source: Election Commission / Media Reports 7
  8. 8. MSLGROUP INDIA Public Affairs Round-up For more information on what MSLGROUP in INDIA has to offer your company, please contact our India CEO Jaideep Shergill 8