Opinion Polls

Opinion polls have a reputation for inaccuracy in India, but how inaccurate are they in reality? Has a meta-study been conducted on them? The reason I ask is that as I see it, there are two main steps where the polls can go wrong. Either they get the vote percentages wrong, or they make an error in translating the votes into seats.  My ill-informed guess is that the first step is easier to get right than the second. It is possible that they get the vote percentage right and screw up in their model that will translate it into seats, or a small error in the first leads to a large error in the second. It should be possible to test this hypothesis by looking at the data for the last few elections. I am willing to bet (though not a large amount) that the non-shady organizations that conduct the polls get the vote percentage right. (I am also willing to accept the possibility that there are in fact no non-shady pollsters.)

The reason for this speculation is that it occurs to me that if I am right, this time the polls should be very very inaccurate, because the delimitation must have completely screwed up whatever models they have to translate votes into seats.

Questions for the BJP

Dear BJP,

RE: Your performance during the Kandahar Episode

Do you have anything better than this Kanchan Gupta article to explain your performance? If not, then here are some questions that arise from that article:

  1. The article blames the media for creating the impression that the entire country wanted the terrorists to be released. The question is, were you elected to office based on SMS polls organized by the media? Don’t you have BJP workers all over the country?  Did you really have no way to be in touch with those who elected you?
  2. If you cannot fight your country’s media and some 200 families within the country, how do you expect Indians to have the confidence that you will fight India’s enemies? If you cannot take tough decisions and communicate them during a minor crisis like this, what would you have done if you had faced the situation that Britain faced during World War II when the Germans were bombing them?
  3. The article is pretty critical of the behaviour of the officials at the Raja Sansi airport. Apparently, they failed to obey a direct order from a Central Minister at the time of crisis. What did you do to end the careers of such incompetent officials? Or do your powers of harrassment and vindictiveness extend only to those who expose wrongdoing in your government?
  4. In December 1999, NSG commandoes could not fly from Delhi to Amritsar because they did not have a plane. In November 2008, NSG commandoes could not fly from Delhi to Mumbai because they still did not have a plane. What did you do between 1999 and 2004 to get the NSG commandoes a plane?
  5. Finally, if, when faced with the problems, constraints and incentives that the Indian National Congress did, you are going to do the same things that the Indian National Congress did, why should anyone who is exasperated with the performance of the Indian National Congress vote for you?

Replacing FPTP

Karan Thapar discusses former Chief Election Commisioner Lyngdoh’s solution to the problem of “hate speech”.  Lyngdoh believes that hate speech is a consequence of the first past the post system which will often lead to candidates getting elected even with 20-30% of the vote.  So, all a candidate has to do is to appeal to a hardline base, which often means that he can profitably utilize hate speech towards that end. The solution, according to Lyngdoh, is in two parts. The first part is to utilize run-off voting where the top two candidates slug it out for a second round. The second part is to use proportional voting to fill part of the legislature.

I have discussed this when I reviewed Arun Shourie’s book for Pragati, but both these solutions will worsen the problem. In the FPTP system, you have to win the first time. Yes, you can win with 20-30% of the vote, but only if no one else gets more. What is stopping you from appealing to a broader section of the population right now?  In a run-off voting system, you have an incentive to run a two-stage election strategy. In the first stage, your campaign is extremist, focusing on your base. In the second stage, you move to the centre to take advantage of the median voter – something that happens with American Presidential elections. In the FPTP system, you have little incentive to shoot for the second or third place. But in a run-off system, you have an incentive to try to secure 10-15% of the vote, so that you “transfer” it in the second round in return for favours.

Proportional voting has similar problems. In the FPTP system, there is little incentive to appeal to a religion, caste or section that is only 5% strong, but distributed across multiple constitencies. In a proportional system, a party that is focused on just that 5% will still get 5% of the seats.

To be honest, I actually like the proportional system. If you combine it with a directly elected President (making parliamentary majorities irrelevant) the system has some advantages – for one thing, it will provide better representation to the middle class that is now spread across multiple constituencies. But let’s not look at it to solve problems it won’t solve.

Lok Satta Party Ad

Yesterday I caught an interesting ad for the Lok Satta Party on some Telugu channel. It depicts a family obviously in poverty. Their hands are in cuffs.  Two extended hands appear, one of them offering rice and the other offering some other food which I did not catch. The family shakes their heads, refusing. Then Jayaprakash Narayan, head of the party shows up, and he too extends his hand, only it is revealed that he has keys in his hands. Nice, crisp and effective message.

Lok Satta has been running quite a serious campaign here in Hyderabad. Any idea where they are getting  funding from? Perhaps their  web site  answers the question, but a quick glance reveals this, which does not tell me much about the composition of their sources.

Why Vote for Meera Sanyal?

Nilu wants to know why I support Meera Sanyal. He seems to have discerned that I support her from the fact that I have joined the Facebook group that says “Meera Sanyal for South Mumbai”. Can’t blame him for that, but I don’t only join Facebook groups when I support those causes. I join them when I am interested enough to track what is happening.

That said, I do support Sanyal, and if I were a registered voter in South Mumbai, I would vote for her. But Nilu asks some valid questions, and here are the answers.

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Look Out for Presidential Chief Ministers

I have piled on Sagarika Ghose earlier, but I must give credit when she is right. I think that she is essentially right here.  I had written earlier that

Very few politicians have tried to break out of this cycle, and I believe that the person with the greatest chance of succeeding is Modi.

The other person who is succeeding is Naveen Patnaik.   Neither Modi nor Patnaik has an immediate chance of succeeding at the national level, but then, I’d expect a vacuum at the national level for the next few years anyway. In the next few years, I believe that we will see many more of these presidential Chief Ministers, i.e. Chief Ministers who bypass intermediaries and forge a direct contract with their constituents.  The contract is: I provide you good governance and you vote for me. This will replace the multi-level contracts based on various caste allegiences that are now the norm. The Central Government will be a confederacy installed by these Chief Ministers.

And, this is something for the BJP to think of. 15 years ago, the BJP would have been the natural place for all these Chief Ministers to be in ( or be in alliance with). Now, it is no longer true.  Karnataka is one place where they are really badly screwing up.  There, if you had a presidential Chief  Minister like Modi, they could have achieved a permanent majority just as they have achieved in Gujarat. Instead, they have Yedyurappa.

Also, this moral policing is a bad mistake. If you are wondering how this point is related to the previous ones, trust me, it is related. I have just skipped a few steps in the reasoning.

Rube Goldberg Voting System v2

A refinement of my idea here. Minors should continue to have weighted votes to be exercised by their parents, but each parent should be allowed only one vote in addition to his or her own. That way, parents don’t get credit for having too many children. (Polygynous people of whichever religion will get credit for as many children as there are wives, plus 1, which sounds fair.) Now,   I don’t think that it makes sense to argue that this will provide an incentive for parents to “game the system”. Those who think that it makes sense have obviously never had children themselves. But the point that it will overweight the votes of people who did not practise birth control is well-taken, hence the modification.

Second modification. The weights should be discounted. We should use the  five-year average rate on government securities of appropriate tenor to determine the discounting.  That will mitigate the advantage enjoyed by young people somewhat.

The Turning Point?

Last May I had written:

So, a weak Congress with allies will do quite well for some time. In a First Past the Post electoral system, the parties in the first and second place tend to look stronger than they are, because like Vali in the Ramayana, they will gain strength from their opponents. 

This analogy is unfortunately inaccurate.  Vali gained his strength from the strength of his opponents. In a FPTP system, the second strongest party gains strength from the weakness of the stronger party. Your organization could be in a complete mess, but as long as you are the main alternative to the stronger party, the ruling party’s missteps and the anti-incumbency factor will cause you to gain strength.

My point, though is still valid. I believe that the Congress is in an irreversible decline.  If ever it happens that the third front gains enough to form a government on its own, then the extinction will be quite rapid. The BJP is also in a decline, but I am not sure if it is irreversible.

An Idea

Your vote should be weighted by your actuarial life expectancy. So, if you are a 25 year old person  and your current life expectancy is 50 (more) years, then your vote should be multiplied by 50. If you are 65 years old and your life expectancy is only 20 more years, your vote will carry that much less weight.

Minors too should have weighted votes, to be exercised by one of their parents till the minor turns 18.