Polls confirm 40-40 politics
When the DS-Nielsen opinion poll held after the current government’s 100-day in office showed the AL enjoyed strong popularity, quite a few BNP-leaning people told me that these polls were just another proof that the civil society was out to destroy the nationalist forces. Obviously anything coming out in the Daily Star cannot be trusted. Multinationals can’t be trusted. And in any case, our people don’t understand opinion poll.
Funny how things change. Now that both the DS-CSR* and PA-ORG polls show quite clearly that AL and BNP are locked in a statistical dead heat (if anything, BNP appears to be more popular of the two), not a peep from my BNP-wallah friends. From the AL side, however, I hear something remarkably familiar — you can’t trust anything coming out in Prothom Alo or Daily Star, those susheel types will never say anything good about AL, and who understands polls in Bangladesh anyway. Oh, I forget, of course these are just the latest attempts to foil the War Crimes Trial.
Needless to say, I believe these polls reflect political reality far better than the collective wisdom of all op ed pages, TV talking heads, and online rubbish (this included).
And what do they show?
The Prothom Alo poll says that if an election is held now, BNP would win 43% of votes, against AL’s 39%. To put that in context, BNP won more votes only once, in 1979, when AL was still recovering from 1974 famine, Bakshal, and the assassinations, while BNP basked in the popularity of Ziaur Rahman. Even in 2001, BNP managed only 41% vote. Meanwhile, AL’s 39% is worse than the 40% it received in 2001. Daily Star’s poll gives slightly better result for the government — AL 40% vs BNP 37%.
The Bangla paper has a bigger sample, the English one employs a more experienced agency. Which one to believe? Considering the margin of errors around these polls, it would be reasonable to put each party’s support at about 40% (two-fifths — I’ll use fraction in what follows) — pretty much where they were a year ago.
Pause for a moment and think about the implications. After a year of so much bad news, Awami League’s popularity hasn’t changed much. In fact, it seems to be as about as popular as it was a decade ago. Two out of every five Bangladeshi will reliably vote AL unless things get much, much worse. On the other hand, BNP also seems to be pretty much where it was a decade ago. And much like how things were in the decade before the 2001 election, the political arithmetic seems to be all about how the three-fifths non-AL-ers sliced.
That’s all I am going to say about electoral politics. Over the fold, in no particular order, some things I found interesting.
– The rental power plants may have damaging macroeconomic consequences, but people seem to like the result. According to PA-ORG, about half the respondents believe the state of electricity has improved, while less than a third believe it has worsened. A year ago, responses were the other way around. This is echoed by the DS-Neilsen poll, which finds that less than a quarter believes that government hasn’t taken any initiative on the issue.
– Matia Chowdhury is somewhat of a darling of our political class. I remember a TV show hosted by Mahi B Chowdhury circa 2005 where a dozen politicians from across the political spectrum called her the ideal politician. And DS-Nielsen suggests she is the second most popular minister even now. Well, her fans are in for a surprise. According to PA-ORG, three-fifths of the respondents don’t believe that the current government’s agricultural policies have been good for the farmers. Urban respondents are roughly evenly split on the question, but nearly two-thirds of the village dwellers disapprove of the government’s handling of the farm sector.
– I’ve been hearing about corruption for as long as I can remember. Interestingly, according to the DS-Nielsen poll, three-quarters didn’t actually experience or face corruption in the past three years. I wish someone does a serious study of the experience (as opposed to the perception) of corruption in Bangladesh. My prior is that things are nowhere near as bad as chattering classes make it out to be.
– As far as I can tell, there is no systematic pattern in these polls regarding relationship with India, which is not necessarily surprising. I guess the point to ignore anyone making categorical statement (of whether desh bikri or bondhu rashtro variety) about what the people feel about India. The people feel a whole bunch of conflicting things on a complex issue, and anyone trying to tell you otherwise is selling partisan hyperbole. You are more intelligent than that.
*Of course, the DS poll is no longer done by Nielsen.