He got it right, again, and how. Pradeep Gupta, renowned psephologist and managing director of Axis My India, whose exit poll predicted a landslide win for the BJP in Uttar Pradesh, proved the sceptics wrong again, as the ruling party is winning more than 274 seats in the 403-member assembly.
Though all exit polls gave Uttar Pradesh to the BJP, arguably the biggest poll prize in the country after the Lok Sabha election, the Axis My India stood out for the scale of the win it foresaw—288-326 seats.
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It also predicted an Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) sweep in Punjab, an edge for the BJP over the rival Congress in Uttarakhand, a close fight in Goa and an easy win for the ruling BJP in Manipur. As counting progresses to the last rounds, AAP has unseated Congress in Punjab, BJP has won Uttarakhand and Manipur. In Goa, Gupta's Axis My India has predicted 14-18 seats for the BJP. The saffron party has got 20 seats in the 40-member house so far, according to the latest Election Commission of India numbers.
In an interview to Moneycontrol on March 9, Gupta of Axis My India, explained the process, the challenges, the chances of getting predictions wrong and things that are on a voters’ mind before exercising their franchise. Edited excerpts:
You are giving BJP a thumping majority in Uttar Pradesh. What is the basis of your prediction?
Whatever numbers we predict, whether it is a thumping majority or a sweep or a hung assembly, are based on our team’s hard work during exit poll or post poll study, as we call them now. We go to each assembly seat and talk to people on how and why they voted for a particular party. In any research study, sampling plays a vital role.
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In UP we spoke with roughly 300 people in each constituency, so our sample size was 1,21,034. We make sure that the sample size is representative in some of the basic things which decide the outcome. People, for example in UP, vote largely based on caste and community. So whatever the percentage of a particular caste in a particular seat, we maintain that ratio in our 300 sample size in each seat, among other factors. We have noticed in recent elections that a hung assembly is rare and most elections will throw a clear-cut verdict.
We have given the BJP anywhere between 288 and 326 seats. There are three major factors for the BJP win. One is delivery of the central government’s welfare schemes, the second is better law and order situation. And finally, the core beneficiaries of both the two factors were women, who were the decisive factor in a big way, at least in the UP polls. In our poll, among male voters, the BJP is likely to get 44 percent of the votes while the Samajwadi Party (SP) will get 40 percent. Among females, this 4 percentage point difference between the BJP and SP turns into 16 percentage points in favour of the BJP.
But what about issues like inflation, farmers’ protest, etc? What was on voters’ minds in UP?
Yes, issues like inflation, unemployment, farmers’ agitation, mismanagement of the second wave of COVID-19, the Hathras rape, Lakhimpur Kheri violence, etc, were evident on the ground. But the delivery of the Narendra Modi government’s social welfare schemes and improved law and order situation by the Yogi Adityanath-led state government is scoring big time above all other issues.
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Issues which impact the largest section of society play a vital role. For example, delivery of social welfare schemes impact about 80 percent of voters. Yet, law and order doesn’t impact everyone but it matters more on perception. The farmers’ agitation was mostly seen in seven districts of in western UP which is 10 percent of the state’s geography.
Even demographically, the voters in UP roughly comprise 20-25 percent people directly related to farming. It will impact in the same ratio in which it existed. Our survey found the BJP has 46 percent vote share while its rival SP had 36 percent. So the farmer’s issue, if at all, was in 36 percent of voters.
The Akhilesh Yadav-led SP was a challenger. What did not work for it? What about the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Congress?
Any challenger or an opposition like Akhilesh Yadav need to be present on the ground to highlight the government’s performance. While the Opposition was not visible for five years, the government was there, if not performing.
The Muslim –plus-Yadav votes were heavily consolidated in favour of SP. But that is just 31 percent voter percentage. Even during the SP’s best performance when it came to power in 2012, it got 26 percent Muslim-Yadav vote share. The impact of the party’s alliance with SBSP and OBC leaders like Swami Prasad Maurya, joining it had a limited impact in a few seats.
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The BSP has lost ground in UP, at least in this election. The Congress was seen in the last leg, but that is not how it works.
Axis My India has done 52 elections, of which it was wrong in only four elections. What went wrong? What are the challenges?
Unless we talk to people, we cannot do our job. In the Bihar and Bengal elections, there were restrictions and fear factors when COVID-19 was at its peak. For us the challenge is the identity of our surveyors. Often people mistake them to be political party workers. At least 20 percent of people did not talk to us in Bengal. Turned out that 75 percent of those people voted for TMC (Trinamool Congress). That is where the difference lies.
Another challenge is that we generally predict based on 0.1 percent sample size. Imagine how difficult it is to call elections with such a sample size for a population which is 1,000 times bigger.
There were fewer rallies this time. Do rallies have an impact?
I believe rallies do not have much of an impact in elections. At least 80 percent of those who vote belong to rural areas where there are hardly any entertainment opportunities. The parties organised rallies to boost the morale of the cadre. It is the party cadre that brings the voters to the rally.
You predict AAP sweeping Punjab. Why?
Punjabis are known for wanting a change each time they go for elections. We found there is a strong anti-Incumbency against the Congress government in Punjab.
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We also found there is a ‘parivartan lahar’, a wave for change, in at least two regions of Punjab—Malwa (69 seats) and Majha (25 seats). There is pro-incumbency in the Doaba (23 seats) region. Also, declaring Bhagwant Mann as CM candidate also improved AAP’s prospects in the Malwa region, where he comes from.
Your polls say the BJP is winning UP, Uttarakhand and Manipur. What is the common factor for the party?
In UP, as I said earlier, PM Modi and his government’s welfare schemes remain the larger factor while Adityanath is also an important factor. But if you ask me, overall, Modi is still the biggest factor across India, among other factors. Consider Uttarakhand, where there was no CM face, it is just Modi’s schemes that push the voters towards the BJP, even as the Congress has done better this time.