Opinion

A week is a long time in Delhi’s politics

HOLLI A SEMETKO TABEREZ AHMED NEYAZI ANUP KUMAR | Updated on January 24, 2018 Published on February 03, 2015

Who's in? The answer is elusive Sushil Kumar Verma   -  THE HINDU

Voters in the Capital tend to make up their mind at the last minute. In a close contest, it is anyone’s game

With voting in Delhi’s Assembly election just a few days away, can one really expect the BJP’s campaign shift will influence voters in the penultimate hour?

If the last two elections in Delhi are anything to go by, then the answer is ‘yes’.

Delhi-ites are discerning voters; nearly 45 per cent reported they decided how to cast their vote in the late stages of the last Assembly election campaign.

Last minute call

Our December 2013 post-election survey of 1,451 voters in Delhi asked, “When did you make up your mind about which party to vote for?” Nearly 25 per cent said they made up their minds “on Election Day” or “within the previous 48 hours”, and a further 20 per cent said in “the last half of November.”

Of those who decided late in the 2013 campaign, the AAP had the most to gain: 49 per cent of AAP voters in our survey made up their minds late in the campaign, compared with 40 per cent of BJP voters, and 38 per cent of Congress voters.

In the 2014 Lok Sabha election, while more Delhi residents had made up their minds earlier, 39 per cent decided late in the Lok Sabha campaign and that included nearly 26 per cent in the last 48 hours or on Election Day, and almost 12 per cent in the first week of April.

But the BJP had more to gain in the 2014 Lok Sabha election than in the 2013 Assembly election. When Delhi went to the polls on April 10, 2014, over 43 per cent of the BJP voters had decided in the first week of April or later, compared with 37 per cent of AAP voters, and nearly 28 per cent of Congress voters.

If past behaviour is the best predictor of the future, then many of Delhi’s voters will be making up their minds at a time when the BJP is likely to have an advantage in terms of the sheer volume of face-to-face contact, posters on streets, electronic communications and news coverage.

Radio and social media are important sources in 2015, possibly even more important than in the last two elections in Delhi. And voter turnout will be a major factor, especially if the BJP supporters are not excited about their chief ministerial candidate, Kiran Bedi, as the reporting suggests. But the BJP’s volume advantage means little if it is squandered by dissention. If the BJP speaks to the issues that concern voters and stays on message, then there is much to gain.

The new campaign strategy led by BJP president Amit Shah and finance minister Arun Jaitley shows the discerning Delhi electorate that central leadership can come together quickly to work effectively and address local issues.

The ball is now in AAP’s court to counter the BJP’s reinforcements during this last week of the second Assembly election campaign in 14 months. The BJP’s plans for 250 rallies including several with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, as well as support on the streets from 120 BJP lawmakers, ministers, and many top women in office, have been widely publicized.

Campaign key

The AAP’s comparative advantage is still Arvind Kejriwal. The man who is no stranger to dissention in his own party’s ranks is leading in the polls as the most favoured chief ministerial candidate.

His populist agenda on electricity and water rates, land acquisition for development, and regularisation of unauthorised colonies in Delhi will have many takers.

Strategic campaign management is the key to success in India’s fluid political landscape in which citizen-consumers lack longstanding ties to political parties.

Our post-election surveys in Delhi 2013 and 2014 point to a substantial number of voters waiting to make up their minds in what were high velocity campaigns. Assuming 2015 is no different, then a week is certainly a long time in Delhi politics. Our post-election survey in this 2015 Delhi Assembly election campaign is part of our 2014 India Election Study (IES).

It includes a panel component, a third wave to our two-wave panel in the Delhi Lok Sabha campaign. The 2014 IES conducted surveys in Delhi, Bengaluru, Mumbai and Guwahati to study campaigning and influence, and to establish a baseline for the growth of media uses and how they would impact future elections.

Semetko teaches at Emory University; Neyazi is with Jamia Millia Islamia; Kumar is associate professor at Cleveland State University. They are part of the 2014 IES team

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Published on February 03, 2015
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