Dr Venugopala Rao of the Centre for Psephology Studies (CPS) has been a practising psephologist since 2006. He has an enviable track record of predicting the seat share accurately in every election since 2009. He started doing regular socio-economic surveys for former Andhra Pradesh chief minister, the late YS Rajasekhara Reddy in 2006. Since mid-2016, CPS has been regularly conducting surveys for K Chandrasekhar Rao once every four months, to give a feedback to the Telangana chief minister on matters both political and related to governance.
Dr Rao’s organisation has just finished conducting two independent surveys of Andhra Pradesh, the first one between 17-21 February with a sample size of 4,37,642 respondents and the second between 27-31 March with a sample size of 3,04,323 respondents. The survey was conducted in all the 175 assembly constituencies in Andhra Pradesh.
Dr Venugopala Rao spoke to T S Sudhir of UmaSudhir.com to give his numbers and analyse the why and how of his findings. In the first part of the interview, we discuss Andhra Pradesh. The Telangana survey will be discussed in Part 2 of the interview tomorrow.
Sudhir : Let us talk about the big findings of your survey of Andhra Pradesh, a state there is a lot of interest in. If elections were held today, who is winning Andhra Pradesh?
Rao : YS Jaganmohan Reddy will sweep the elections. Interestingly, in the survey we had done in February, the difference between YSR Congress and the Telugu Desam was 4.5 per cent, now it has risen to 8 per cent. Compare that with 2014, when the difference between the two parties was just about 1.6 per cent.
Sudhir : So in terms of vote share, how much are the three main parties getting as per your survey?
Rao : YSRC is getting 48.1 per cent of the vote, TDP is at 40.1 per cent and Jana Sena at 8 per cent. The Congress and the BJP are not significant enough to be a factor.
Sudhir : You mentioned an increase in the vote share in the last two weeks or so. What has led to that?
Rao : The intensifying of the electioneering by Jagan and the hollow electioneering by Chandrababu Naidu. What I mean by that is that Naidu’s campaign instruments are wrong. He knew there is anti-incumbency against sitting MLAs and the government but he tried to divert attention to sentimental factors. He clubbed Narendra Modi and Jagan together and blamed them for Andhra’s woes.
The sops he has given out in the last three months are seen as too much of a last-minute election-oriented decision so they have not clicked with the voters. Plus his U-turn on Special Category status has also not gone down well. (Naidu had accepted the Special package, passed a resolution in the Andhra assembly praising Modi in March 2017 and then took a U-turn and demanded special status. That is why on the campaign trail, Modi calls him “U-turn Babu”)
Sudhir : The impression I got from the ground, and this is a reporter’s perspective, is that Special category status is not such an emotive issue as is being made out by the politicians. It is one of the issues but is not THE issue that is deciding the vote.
Rao : That is right. But when the two leaders are compared on the special status issue, Jagan’s credibility is more than Naidu. On a scale of 100, Jagan is at 90, Naidu is at 10. Naidu wanted to make it a poll issue but did not succeed.
Sudhir : Naidu has also alleged an understanding between Jagan and KCR and told the people that a vote for Jagan will mean Andhra will be ruled from Hyderabad. Did you survey suggest if it is clicking or not clicking with the voter?
Rao : It has not worked on the ground because the TRS is not contesting in Andhra, it is not part of the alliance. This is unlike in the run-up to the Telangana elections when KCR said a vote for Congress-TDP alliance will mean Telangana will be ruled from Amaravati. That narrative clicked because Naidu was part of the alliance and was campaigning in Telangana.
The sentiment on the ground as gathered in our survey is that people want to give one chance to Jagan. They want to try out an alternate leadership. They are impressed by the alternate agenda presented by Jagan in the form of his navratnas.
Sudhir : One of the major campaign issues of the TDP is that Jagan is corrupt, an accused in a dozen CBI chargesheets. How can he be trusted with the state. Two, Jagan rule will bring goonda raj to Andhra Pradesh. Doesn’t this narrative find traction with the people?
Rao : Our survey found it was a non-issue because people think Naidu government has been equally corrupt. So the argument is not quite working on the ground. Two, this charge of rowdyism Naidu used in the 2014 elections as well and it helped him then. Now the feeling is how many times will he level the same charge, create the same fear psychosis.
Sudhir : My own feedback is that it is still a matter of concern among the educated lot in urban centres. For instance, what I picked up from the ground is that the corruption factor is working in Visakhapatnam Lok Sabha constituency. That could be perhaps because former CBI officer, VV Laxminarayana who handled the Jagan case, is the Jana Sena candidate there.
Rao : Not in the entire state.
Sudhir : Another impression I gathered on the ground was the caste factor. People talk about how the TDP regime has essentially benefited one community and how this could lead to a backlash from other communities.
Rao : As a sociologist I can say the development in Andhra under the TDP regime was partisan. Yes, there is an anti-Kamma community sentiment from the other caste groups. The BCs at around 35 per cent of the electorate, who were traditionally the backbone of the TDP, have turned away to an extent. The gap between expectations from Naidu and the reality on the ground is too huge.
Sudhir : What is the impact of Pawan Kalyan and his Jana Sena. He did not contest the 2014 elections but campaigned for the TDP-BJP combine. It was believed that he played a role then in getting the youth and Kapu vote into the alliance. How different is 2019 from 2014?
Rao : Pawan Kalyan is getting about 8 per cent of the vote as I said. But it is mainly coming from three districts of East and West Godavari and Visakhapatnam. We are predicting that Jana Sena will win 1-2 seats only. Of the two seats that Pawan is contesting himself, as of now he is better placed in Gajuwaka (Visakhapatnam district) than in Bhimavaram (West Godavari district).
Sudhir : So in terms of seats, what is the range you are talking of, roughly a week before polling day.
Rao : We are giving 121-130 seats out of 175 assembly seats in Andhra Pradesh to the YSR Congress, 45-54 to the TDP and 1-2 to Jana Sena. As far as Lok Sabha results are concerned, there is a drop of 1 per cent for the YSRC, from 48 per cent to 47 per cent. In terms of Lok Sabha seats, it translates to 21 seats to Jagan and 4 to Chandrababu.
Sudhir : Most of the senior TDP leaders I have been speaking to, are pinning their hopes on the government doles that will reach the bank accounts of women self-help groups, farmers, pensioners between April 4 and 7. This, all of them tell me, will be the gamechanger ahead of polling day. Did you get such an impression in your poll survey?
Rao : That hope is unfounded. We did poll women self-help group (DWCRA) members. 45.2 per cent of them favoured YSRC while 44 per cent favoured TDP.
Sudhir : So the gap is not much?
Rao : But it should have been the other way round if the TDP was sure of women voter support. What is working against TDP is that their campaign managers are going around telling women voters that we have given you all this, you better vote for us. Women voters are revolted by this aggressive posturing.
Sudhir : Privately the TDP does concede to anti-incumbency against many sitting MLAs. Maybe they should have changed more candidates. Instead they gave tickets to sons and daughters of sitting legislators. But beyond this, how have the two leaders matched against each other because in terms of a personality clash, Andhra is like a presidential contest.
Rao : Yes. We polled leadership of Naidu and Jagan as one of the factors that would influence the vote. 46 per cent respondents said they liked Jagan’s leadership style as against 39 per cent for Naidu.