[Disclaimer: 5Forty3 is not reporting, analyzing or projecting any exit-polls and is only making ground assessments based on reports from different parts of Uttar Pradesh]

There are 2 great recent examples of electoral battles virtually coming to an end on the very 1st phase of a long election season. The first of course is 2014 general elections when BJP was so overwhelming on day 1 of polling (on April 10th 2014 when the big states went to polls although actual elections had begun in a few seats in Assam 2 days before that), the opposition to Modi was totally demoralized and went out of the reckoning. In fact, we at 5Forty3 were live tracking that general election and nothing had prepared us to what was unfolding in terms of real time data feeds. On a regular basis 5 to 6 out of every 10 respondents would be opting for the saffron party while all other opposition parties would be vying for space among the leftover voters – of course, weighted, mapped data would bring the support levels of BJP to more realistic levels.

The second crucial example was that of Bihar during the 2015 assembly elections. On the very first day of polling on October the 12th, the Mahagathbandhan of Nitish-Lalu-Congress combine so overwhelmed the BJP that the latter was virtually out of contest since then. To be sure, the raw data was not so out rightly one-sided as BJP’s performance in the summer of 2014, but the weighted data left no doubt as to how big was the lead of the grand alliance. Indeed, as things turned out, the qualitative lead of Mahagathbandhan was so superior to that of BJP and NDA on phase 1 that its seat conversion ratios were far superior – qualitative lead here essentially means the solid traction in swing geographies and demographics that enabled the ‘secular’ alliance to get much better seat conversions.

The above 2 examples serve as great benchmarks on how to overwhelm your opposition into virtual surrender on the very first day of battle in a long drawn out election season. BJP did have that kind of an opportunity on February 11th in Uttar Pradesh because the election season was beginning from its new stronghold of western UP where it had a solid cushion of 50% vote-share of 2014. Yet the party has not overwhelmed like we expected in our pre-poll survey. In fact, this is why pre-poll surveys are still not perfect projection tools because of the following 3 factorials;

  1.  At the end of the day, even final pre-poll surveys essentially present the snapshot of a particular geography on those particular dates which are still at least a week away from actual elections. In this day and age of a highly connected world with social media, internet and mass penetration of TV sets, many small and big trend shifts do occur at much shorter notices. (For ex, out of 4-5% undecided voters even in our last pre-poll, a majority were still Muslims who seem to have broken out mostly in favor of SP-Congress on the polling day).

  2.  There are two sets of variables in the electoral projection matrix of pre-poll mathematical models - A] the actual party preference of any subset of a demography and B] the relative enthusiasm/turnout of different subgroups. Whereas after election-day, the second variable (of relative turnouts) turns into actual numbers which makes the projection relatively more error-free (this is why post-polls are generally more accurate than pre-polls.

  3.  Swing geographies and demographics (of different swing polling booths) tend to be most accurate on polling day rather than in pre-polls – this can be rectified to a large extent by much bigger sample sizes in swing areas in pre-poll surveys but requires much greater resources

Thus what unfolded in western Uttar Pradesh on the very first day was not an overwhelming BJP performance despite its overall leads. On the other hand, the opposition parties too have done much better than what we expected. The BSP, for instance did not collapse to the extent that it was expected to while the Congress-SP alliance has done much better than its core strength was suggesting. Our MAPi too was consistently showing BJP leading in most districts but mostly in the late 20’s or early 30’s range. All the ground reports suggest (stress here must be on the fact that we are not reporting any exit poll numbers), BJP has underperformed by about 3 to 4 percentage points relative to what the pre-polls were indicating in western UP while BSP has done better by the same number. SP has done a tad better with 2 point gain from its pre-poll numbers. This essentially means that the saffron party’s attrition rates are 15-16% or thereabouts rather than being in the 11-12% range as compared to the 2014 peak. What all of this means? Let us consider the following 5 details;

  1.  BSP has stemmed its collapse which essentially means 2 things – A] The Muslim vote did not completely go one-sided to the SP-Congress alliance and was more of a split in terms of 65-25-10 in relative terms to SP-INC, BSP & others respectively and B] Its core Dalit vote-base did not desert Maya to the extent that was visible in 2014 which affected BJP in at least 13 seats.

  2.  Jat votes were split and many RLD nominees did get substantial support unlike 2014 which may hamper BJP’s long term equation with this very volatile demographic – over the last 3 years, BJP had the great opportunity to build somebody like Sanjeev Baliyan as a new age Chaudhary Charan Singh, representing the aspirational face of Jats, but missed that opposrtunity.

  3.  OBCs (beyond Jats and Yadavs) were seen to be solidly consolidating behind BJP which augurs well for the party going forward in the next phases of the UP battle.

  4.  The relative turnout of upper castes is a cause for concern for the BJP. This was a problem in Bihar too and it seems to be haunting the party across the heartland. That core loyal vote-base of the saffron party which has remained with the party through thick and thin is possibly feeling left out by this new BJP more interested in OBCs and Dalits only. The Sangh ecosystem must address this issue immediately if they are to continue to remain the dominant pole of Indian politics. The bottom-line here is that the upper castes are still voting in greater numbers to BJP but are simply relatively less enthusiastic to go out and vote!.

  5.  If the SP-INC alliance has done reasonably well in the 1st phase where it was supposed to be the weakest, then one can expect a relatively much better performance from the alliance in the next 2 phases where it has many areas of strength – for instance, out of the 34 seats that the SP had won in the 67 constituencies that go to polls on 15th February, exactly half or 17 of them were won by margins greater than 10% of vote-share which gives the Samajwadis much greater leg room now with an alliance with Congress in place.

“Our plan has always focused on winning some 30 odd seats in each of the 7 phases to get a clear majority” concludes a BJP strategist before adding, “by that matrix, we have done better than our phase-wise target on day 1”. Going forward, what the party has to reckon with now are the two not-so-favorable phases that follow after day 1. If BJP manages to keep the morale of its cadre up throughout these 2 phases, the real battle then begins in the east. In fact, it is in the 167 seats of Poorvanchal where BJP has been consistently doing well in our pre-poll numbers because it is here that SP faces maximum localized anti-incumbency and it is also here that BJP has built a solid non-Yadav coalition of OBCs. One of the biggest takeaways of phase 1 was BJP’s superlative performance among the OBC section of voters which should keep the party on a strong wicket in eastern UP.

[We will be also doing a full review of UP elections at the midway point at the 4th phase when we will have much better assessment of a clearer projections]