Subhash Chandra and Hari Kasula

For the first time in political tracking, Campaign360 launched a series of online studies that will be used to asses how context of the election changes over the course of the campaign season and predict the elections in Tamil Nadu. What is the hypothesis?

Past elections have shown that voting swings are consistent across all voting segments, the only thing that differs is the scale of the swing. Case in point is 2014 election. In almost every voting block, the BJP gained. It gained the most amongst urban voters but the swing was quite high even amongst rural voters. This experiment could of course dispel our hypothesis, which is also fine because there would certainly be something to learn.

One of the interesting things that we were doing in parallel was, we were using our partner, Quickmetrix.com’s digital listening tool to understand the trends on social media conversations around the Tamil Nadu elections. Irrespective of the final outcome, this experiment has already yielded some interesting findings including quantifying the electoral context.

Our survey of 3rd week of April (Sample 600, Facebook users only) yielded the following priority of issues

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Corruption was ranked as no.1 followed by prohibition, money power, electricity and governance. What we also found is that corruption had a different impact on each of the parties. For example, amongst those who felt corruption was the No.1 issue, DMK’s vote shares were marginally higher than their share in the overall sample. AIADMK on the other hand, lost significant share amongst this group. The gainers were BJP and PWF. In other words, amongst those who felt corruption was a major issue (probably anti-AIADMK), a large proportion of the anti-incumbency was being captured by PWF and BJP. Of course, this is a digital savvy voter and from an offline perspective, the % of respondents who may think corruption is important may be much smaller and therefore the relative losses for AIADMK and gains for BJP and PWF will be much smaller

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Now, here is the fascinating part. While listening to voters on social media, we found that the issues being discussed were quite different from the issues that emerged in the survey. Employment was the no1. factor followed by law and order and women.

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When we measured the sentiment at that moment, the AIADMK enjoyed a favorable sentiment, followed by the DMK, PWF and BJP

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Now, as the campaign intensified after May 1st, both the BJP and PWF attacked both the DMK and AIADMK on corruption. What happened to the issues? Both corruption and the economy surged in terms of discussion.

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The interesting observation one could make out from the above chart is –  people’s perception of what is the number one issue of the state over course of 3 weeks. About 3 to 4 weeks ahead of the election day, the top issue was Employment followed by Law and Order. But A week before the election, Corruption and Economy became the top issues. Clearly, this indicates that as the campaigns gets momentum and elections day comes closer, people tend to worry about community issues ( Corruption and Economy ) more than individual issues (Employment). PWF and BJP were in a way successful in driving that context to a point that they could hurt AIADMK and DMK more.

What happened to sentiment versus the parties?

As we saw in the second chart, AIADMK was the biggest loser and both the BJP and PWF gained significantly.

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It is clear that corruption as topic is likely to cause significant damage to both the AIADMK and DMK. The challenge for the PWF and BJP was to make this a headline topic, a very difficult task indeed.  It is also likely that issues around unemployment and the economy had a negative impact on the AIADMK given that TN was suffering from high degree of unemployment amongst the educated class.

Further, the net negative perceptions of AIADMK and DMK are growing as they get close to election day. On the Contrary, BJP and PWF minimizing their negative perceptions. This is predominantly due to the campaign context is driving more towards community issues like Corruption and Economy than towards Individual issues like Employment. Although it is a Herculean task for either BJP or PWF to upset both AIADMK and DMK, they both have good chances of denying AIADMK and DMK a clear majority in the number of seats.

It is unclear how this will play out on election day. Our next survey and comparison with offline exit polls will yield rich lessons on our methodology and experiment and have future implications on how exit polls are carried out. We intend to share our raw data files of both our waves in the public domain on the 16th, data geeks can happily play with the data for free.