The interview that T S Sudhir of FilterKaapiLive.com conducted with Dr Venugopala Rao of the Centre for Psephology Studies (CPS) ahead of the Andhra Pradesh elections in which he predicted a victory for the YSR Congress became very controversial. Telugu Desam leaders and activists rubbished his findings even though the sample size in two separate surveys CPS conducted was very impressive. He had polled 4.37 lakh respondents in mid-February and another 3.04 lakh people in end-March in all the 175 constituencies in Andhra Pradesh.
CPS had got the Telangana assembly elections spot-on. He had predicted a range of 84-89 seats to the TRS, it bagged 88. It gave 19 to 21 to the opposition alliance, it got 21.
Given the high stakes and reputation of the agency involved, the CPS went back to verify the findings of its pre-poll surveys. It conducted a random exit poll in all the 175 constituencies on 11 April, the day of polling and went back to do a post-poll survey three days after voting day, once political tempers had cooled down a bit.
During this survey, it focused on 120 constituencies in which its representatives spoke to three sections – women of self-help groups, pensioners and farmers – which the TDP believes would have voted overwhelmingly for them. In each constituency, the CPS teams questioned 50 voters.
T S Sudhir spoke to Venugopala Rao at length on his analysis of the findings of all the three surveys – pre-poll, exit poll and post-poll – to find out who is winning Andhra Pradesh.
Sudhir : What was the feedback you received from the women belonging to the self-help groups. The TDP was banking heavily on this voter base since the Chandrababu Naidu government had given Rs 10000 to each of the 97 lakh women. Of that amount, Rs 4000 was given just a week before polling day.
Rao : Our work with Naidu is over is what many of the women openly said. Now they want Jagan to waive off their loans, give money for sending their children to school etc.
Sudhir : You mean to say that despite being beneficiaries of Naidu regime’s largesse, they did not vote for the TDP?
Rao : They were very clear in their approach on why they voted for Jagan and not for Naidu. Their future is what they spoke about. They want Jagan to fulfill his promises made to them now.
Sudhir : What about pensioners, another group Naidu focused on?
Rao : For the last many months, Jagan was saying he will give Rs 3000 per month. Naidu then hiked it from Rs 1000 to Rs 2000. He later on promised to give Rs 3000 but people we spoke to said, we know Naidu said it because of Jagan’s pressure and elections.
Sudhir : We know money talks but it is quite evident from your survey that voters seem to have linked their vote to their financial future.
Rao : Absolutely. How else will the poor people survive. With these three groups largely going with Jagan, it is difficult for Naidu.
Sudhir : A day or two before the elections, Naidu recorded a message asking voters not to bother about the candidates and instead vote for him. He was in a sense, seeking to make it a presidential kind of contest. Didn’t that make a difference because after all, the same Andhra Pradesh voted for TDP in 2014, trusting Naidu’s administrative acumen.
Rao : In fact, when we spoke to people in the constituencies where we are projecting the TDP will win, they said they voted for good candidates of the party. No one said they voted for Naidu, he did not occupy mindspace. On the other hand, in the case of constituencies where YSR Congress is projected to win, everyone said they voted for Jagan. The narrative that Jagan should be given one chance has gained traction. It is only about Jagan, not his candidates.
Sudhir : The YSRCP was otherwise seen only as a Reddy and Christian party. But this election campaign saw it consolidating other community votes.
Rao : Yes. Jagan and his team did good politics. They united Reddys, SCs, BCs, Christians and Muslims. Which means only Kammas and Kapus were out of the ambit. But even Kapus, the YSRCP would end up getting a decent share of the community vote. Jagan tried to neutralise the Kamma factor by putting up strong Kamma candidates like Daggubati Venkateswara Rao (NTR’s son-in-law) in Parchur in Prakasam district.
Sudhir : You mentioned the Kapu vote. You mean to say it did not stay completely with Pawan Kalyan and the Jana Sena?
Rao : Jana Sena has got between 25-34 per cent of the Kapu community vote in constituencies in three districts of Visakhapatnam, East and West Godavari. But here you need to note that this Kapu vote was with TDP in 2014. So Pawan Kalyan has hurt Naidu, not Jagan.
Sudhir : I see in your constituency-wise prediction, you say Pawan Kalyan is in a tight contest in both Gajuwaka and Bhimavaram. Are you playing it safe or is it really very close to call?
Rao : He is getting close to 30 per cent of the vote in both seats. As a psephologist, it is tricky for me to call. I am neither saying Pawan is winning nor saying he is losing. In one of our pre-poll surveys, Pawan was projected to win Gajuwaka and lose in Bhimavaram.
Sudhir : Another high-profile seat where you have forecast a loss for TDP is Mangalagiri, where Nara Lokesh was the candidate. In 2014, the YSRCP candidate had won here by just 12 votes.
Rao : The gap between the two parties before elections was 6 per cent which would have translated into 12000-odd votes. But money distribution by both sides just before 11 April would have impacted that margin to an extent. We are saying YSCRP will win because as a local person, its candidate had an edge but the margin may come down.
Sudhir : Another interesting seat to look at is Hindupur where Lokesh’s father-in-law and NTR’s son Nandamuri Balakrishna was contesting. He has been in all sorts of controversies, has beaten up people, abused them even during the election campaign. You are predicting a victory for the actor-politician even though the YSRCP had put up Mohammed Iqbal, former IPS officer who was earlier Chief Security officer to Naidu when he was CM.
Rao : Yes. That is because there is a strong NTR legacy vote still in existence there. (NTR won from Hindupur in 1985, 1989, 1994). Even if you blindfold the voters there, they will still go and press the bicycle button of the TDP. This despite the image of Balakrishna not being good.
Sudhir : Three districts – Kadapa, Nellore and Prakasam – you have given all seats to the YSRCP. That means it is a wave at least in this part of south Andhra Pradesh.
Rao : Kadapa of course, is Jagan’s home district. The other districts, the mobilisation of community leaders was done very effectively.
Sudhir : So in terms of vote share, where do the three main parties stand?
Rao : YSRCP should get 47.6 per cent of the vote, TDP at 39.1 per cent and Jana Sena at 8.2 per cent. There could be a marginal difference in this voteshare.
Sudhir : That translates into how many seats for each party?
Rao : YSRCP should get 121-124 seats, TDP between 42-46 and Jana Sena at 0-2. Nine seats are in fact, witnessing a very close contest.
Sudhir : What is the scenario in the 25 Lok Sabha seats?
Rao : YSRCP should win 21 seats. Of the remaining four, TDP will win Srikakulam and Kakinada. Vijayawada and Visakhapatnam are witnessing tight contests. The difference between TDP and YSRCP is just about 1 per cent in Vijayawada while the presence of former CBI officer VV Lakshmi Narayana for Jana Sena in Visakhapatnam has made it a three-cornered race.
Sudhir : How is actor Nagababu (Pawan Kalyan’s brother) placed in Narsapur Lok Sabha seat?
Rao : He will not win. Politics is a tough field. You cannot just come a few days before the elections and expect people to vote for you.