We conducted a unique experimental survey to commemorate six months of the Modi government wherein we combined an online poll spread across 9 days and an offline CATI survey done in 12 top cities of India. This survey had a simple questionnaire template of grading a minister with either a positive (good) or a negative (bad) vote in both the surveys (we also gave special importance to “no vote” or a “skip” as that gives us intelligence about neutral perceptions in comparison ).

Although six months maybe termed as too early to judge a government’s performance metrics, we do live in restless times and public opinion keeps changing rapidly, so this was an attempt to track that change in our endeavor to be India’s earliest political trend detectors. We collated the results of both sections of the polls to arrive at the final numbers, but it must be pointed out here that the online survey got responses from 28 different countries (presumably from Indians living abroad), whereas the random CATI survey was a purely domestic affair. Total sample-size for this poll was 3526.

Online Respondents

The primary finding of this poll survey is that all ministers of the Modi cabinet still enjoy more than 50% positive ratings, which means that the honeymoon period is still very much in vogue notwithstanding the fact that possibly a very large number of online respondents belonged to a BJP supporting demographic because similar results were replicated in the random offline survey. While Sushma Swaraj enjoyed a big overall lead of 84% positive ratings, both Smriti Irani and Arun Jaitley just about managed to cross the halfway mark with 52% and 54% positive ratings respectively.

External Affairs Minister, Sushma Swaraj and Commerce Minister Nirmala Sitaraman got the least negative votes of 6% and 8% respectively, whereas HRD minister Smriti Irani secured 44% negative votes and Finance Minister Arun Jaitley managed to get 40% “BAD” ratings. It is significant that over 40% respondents actually voted negatively against Irani and Jaitley rather than simply skipping or choosing not to vote (in both online as well as offline surveys the figures were more-or-less equal). This could indeed be a worrying factor for the BJP government that two of its high profile ministers can invoke such negativity among educated urban voting class, which, as we have seen in the summer of 2014, now enjoys a disproportionate impact on shaping public opinion in this internet/mobile/social-media era.

While the reasons given by respondents for most of the positive vote for Sushma Swaraj is mainly attributing to her “style of functioning” and her “complimentary role as foreign minister to that of a diplomatically active PM”, some reasons (especially in the offline survey) are as benign as “she has not created any controversies” – which tells us how little people’s expectations are from their external affairs ministers. In the case of Nirmala Sitaraman, the commerce minister, the WTO negotiations seem to have really made a big difference to public perceptions as that is the overwhelming theme in her positive vote.

Being Arun Jaitley may not be an easy task at all, by being entrusted the most important ministry of finance which will eventually shape the Modi legacy for history books, that task may have just gotten into the realm of the impossible. In order to understand the Jaitley negative vote, we culled the 3 thousand odd responses meticulously and classified them into different categories; finally a picture began to emerge. Although at the core, these negative perceptions about the FM stem from the lack of a real reform agenda (a lacklustre budget in July hasn’t helped matters at all), there is one very clear tangible issue which has probably made the biggest adverse impact.

If public opinion matters, which it indeed does, then the biggest PR blunder of this Modi government has probably been the lack of transparency on the black money issue. Remember, the original anti-UPA atmosphere in India had been generated due to those huge 2G, CWG and Coalgate scams which then translated into a positive Modi vote by the summer of 2014. Thus it is indeed inexplicable that the Modi government in general and Arun Jaitley in particular let the perception prevail that they have been less than honest on the black money issue which has now transformed into a big 42% respondents terming it as a major “u turn”!

jaitley negative vote

What is also important to note here is that even most of those people who have rated Jaitley’s performance as “good” tend to be quite defensive about their choice and give such reasons as “he inherited a bad economy from the previous government” to “his health is not helping him”. If that is the case of the Finance Minister, the HRD minister mostly gets her negative votes by default because a majority of the respondents feel that too many controversies are stifling her functioning and this perception is much stronger in the offline survey results than in our online poll.

This six month poll survey by 5Forty3 was neither an attempt to rate the Modi government on our part nor does it claim to be an all India representative poll, but it was just a simple exercise to put (urban) public perceptions into perspective and gain insights into developing political trends. The one clear bottom line that has emerged from this exercise is that although people are still willing to give an extended honeymoon period to the Modi government, time is fast running out and if Narendra Bhai wants to avoid an Obama like disappointment, he must act in the next 2-3 months to make some dramatic interventions, especially of the financial kind. Thus one can obviously conclude that the next Budget will be absolutely crucial, will Arun Jaitley rise to the occasion?