The Hoot Desk
Verbiage was not in short supply after the election results for four North Indian states came in. Every bureau chief, reporter and state correspondent turned poll analyst, trotting out reasons for the way the seats had gone in the legislatures of Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chattisgarh and Delhi. But if you look closely at the coverage in the leading newspapers published from the national capital, it becomes clear that one thing journalists no longer do very much is to analyze the poll data carefully.
Nor do they go sufficiently beyond the big picture to look at exactly how an election has gone, who has come in, who has been voted out, and what that tells us. In covering this set of elections, they tended not to go beyond focusing on the performance of the chief ministerial candidates. The Hoot took the coverage in the four days following the results in the following newspapers: The Hindu, the Times of India, Asian Age, the Hindustan Times, Pioneer and the Indian Express. And found that the number of articles/stories that actually studied the vote share in these elections in all these newspapers taken together, could be counted on the fingers of one hand.
It also looked at Outlook and India Today, the latter did a lot more close analysis than the former, but took figures based on exit polls. Outlook’s focus was to look at the prospects of the Congress and Bharatiya Janata Party separately, rather than to analyse the election results.
Looking at vote share makes it clear that the elections were not as decisive a vote against the Congress as is being made out. But you could not study this because the newspapers did not publish the figures anywhere near as much as they published the seat share figures. It was only one newspaper, The Times of India, in its second day of coverage, which obliged. On page one Siddharth Vardarajan showed that in Chattisgarh for instance, there was a mere two per cent difference in vote share between the winner and the loser. It analyzed victory margins to show that in Chattisgarh and Rajasthan at least, entering into alliances would have made a considerable difference to the seats won. In Madhya Pradesh the vote margins suggested that it would not have made that much difference. Just looking at seats and not at votes and margins gives an exaggerated picture of a party’s success or failure.
Finally on the fourth morning after the polls, The Hindu began carrying an election analysis based both on poll data and post-election surveys. Its first part, on Delhi, debunks with data the theory that the Congress Party’s Delhi victory had to do with women voters preferring a woman for chief minister. It also showed that the Congress came back to power not because of Sheila Dikshit’s (“Sheila Aunty”) appeal to the middle classes that the newspapers and TV reports were waxing eloquent about, but because of a support base of lower middle class and poor voters.
Apart from this study, detailing the results in order to provide more information on the behaviour of the electorate is also something that was done in bits and pieces in just a few newspapers. Both the Pioneer and the Indian Express did a constituency by constituency analysis of voting trends but only for Delhi. The Hindustan Times did a slightly more generalized analysis of voting in the same city-state.
Overall, if you were looking for insights rather than sweeping generalizations, they were in short supply. Everybody latched on to Arun Jaitley’s BSP (bijli, sadak, pani) theory to explain the results, and theorized about the emergence of the women’s vote. Few documented or substantiated these trends, though India Today tried more than the others, using the exit poll data to look at which party women voted for. One of the more informative pieces carried was in fact an exhaustive interview with Pramod Mahajan by Pankaj Vohra in the Hindustan Times where he details what the BJP’s poll strategy was in each state, and how they set about implementing these.(December 7, 2003).
Nobody did anything similar with the Congress: possibly nobody in that party was willing to go on record displaying similar candour.
The Hoot Desk