India's exit polls of 2019 signal that Modi may have got his math right

  • The exit polls for Lok Sabha 2019 predict Narendra Modi's return as the country's Prime Minister.
  • The Bharatiya Janata Party's strategic outreach and focus on West Bengal and Odisha seems to have paid off.
  • The gains in the eastern part of the country make up for the losses in other states, especially Uttar Pradesh.
Narendra Modi may return as India's Prime Minister for the next five years, according to the exit polls at the end of the final phase of polling. The Bharatiya Janata Party, unsurprisingly, credited it to another 'Modi wave'.

However, a deeper dive into the numbers show the so-called Modi wave is still not a national phenomenon.

But to its credit, the party has managed to retain some of its strongholds in Rajasthan, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Delhi, and Haryana. The party has clearly managed to overcome any anti-incumbency in these states. The opposition's hopes of gains after the upswing in the recent state assembly elections did not materialise. The signal here is that the people in these states were angry with the BJP's state unit but that did not reflect on the national leadership, definitely not on Modi.

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BJP retained its hold on some key states
State 2014 tallyAvg of 2019 Exit pollsChange
Delhi76-1
Rajasthan2523-2
Madhya Pradesh26260
Haryana79+2
Gujarat2624-2


However, in Rajasthan, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, and Delhi, the party had swept nearly all seats in even in 2014, leaving little room for gains.

On the other hand, BJP is likely to lose a significant number of seats in Uttar Pradesh, as expected by many pundits even in the run up to these elections. Further, the BJP is likely to be a net loser in the four states compared to its tally in 2014. The average of polls predict that BJP may clock over 20 seats less in the state compared to five years ago.

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There may be some gain in Karnataka-- the poll of polls suggest a gain of less than five seats -- but the loss of an ally in Chandrababu Naidu's (Telugu Desam Party) would take away the 16 seats he brought to the table five years ago.

The poll of polls predict a small loss of three seats for BJP and its ally in Maharashtra.

The net loss of seats at this stage of this narrative, compared to the 2014 count, is over 40 seats in about five states, with no gains in other states where the NDA already had nearly all seats.

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BJP and allies may form the government but it has lost seats in south India
State 2014 tallyAvg of 2019 Exit pollsChange
Karnataka1721+4
Tamil Nadu18+7
Kerala01+1
Andhra Pradesh170-17
Telangana12+1


The swing

However, there was a big swing in favour of the BJP in two places-- West Bengal and Odisha. The two states may have given BJP 21 more seats this time around, helping the party offset the losses in other parts of the country like the Uttar Pradesh and in the southern states.

The BJP also had made dedicated efforts towards these states and it paid off. To understand how important Bengal was for Modi, this was the state where he addressed the most number of rallies after Uttar Pradesh. After all, he was faced off with the regional powerhouse, Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress (TMC). BJP has still come second in the state but the TMC has ceded more ground that it wanted to.
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State 2014 tallyAvg of 2019 Exit pollsChange
West Bengal21311
Odisha11110


Margin for error

However, it is important to mention that exit polls in India try to play it safe. While they have predicted that winner right more often than not but they underestimate the number of seats that the winning side may garner.
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The average under-estimation of the winning party by pollsters in Parliamentary election is about 8%, according to veteran psephologists Dr Prannoy Roy and Dorab Sopariwala in their recent book, The Verdict.

These results can, at best, be described as Modi holding his ground.

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