Elections are about perceptions, apartments, and dosas

Delhi air  Delhi rain

A long day. It started with waking up at 3 AM — thank you, jet lag — then tossing and turning for four hours before breakfast. I had two tasks for the day: touch base at CSDS to receive the documents necessary to register with India’s Bureau of Immigration, and look at apartments so we can clear out of the nice hotel in which Fulbright has placed us.

Task 1

This morning I took the Yellow line of the metro to Civil Lines, where CSDS is located. The Delhi metro is very clean and efficient; construction began as recently as 2002. Interestingly, riders getting on the train do not wait for those getting off the train to disembark. They do not even try to embark around people getting off. This makes for a strange scene of people walking straight into each other at each stop.

The process of obtaining necessary documents from CSDS was not as simple as I hoped. CSDS has to register with the Foreigner Regional Registration Office (FRRO) website before printing out two copies of a form, sending that form in-person to FRRO’s office to approve an ID; once approved, this ID is used to fill out a different online form, which generates a different ID; that ID is then listed on a letter CSDS prints, which I then bring in-person to FRRO with many other documents. Follow that?

I was fortunate enough to have a lengthy chat with Dr. Sanjay Kumar, who will be my supervisor on this project, at the office. Dr. Kumar is a really big deal when it comes to survey research in India; here‘s his bio. He’s the director of CSDS and the Lokniti programme, which is the survey branch of CSDS, and has written and edited a number of books about survey research in India. He is often asked to comment on the state of Indian politics in prominent newspapers or on television. This morning, he published a piece in The Hindu: “Elections are about perceptions.” Kumar points out that though the public perceives some improvement in law and order in Bihar state under the current government, the crime statistics present a murkier picture. However, the perception that crime is decreasing matters much more than the crime statistics for the purposes of the upcoming elections. This somewhat mirrors the United States, where crime rates are at their lowest levels in decades but many think that crime has been increasing.

Expect to read much more about Bihar on this blog in the near future. State elections will be coming up in October — the exact date will be announced within the next two weeks — at which point Lokniti will start designing their survey for the state election. Lokniti designs, fields, and analyzes polls for every state and national election, using a network of academics that spans every state in India. These academics recruit students who are paid to field the surveys, which are all administered face-to-face. The Lokniti network then shares its work through news articles, television shows, journal articles, and books.

Dr. Kumar does not believe that telephone surveys can ensure a representative sample of Indians within states or nationwide. He ball-parked mobile telephone coverage of households in India at 90%; that is, you’re missing at least 10% of households if you’re conducting a survey of India by mobile phone. There are other issues of systematic sampling error at play: 1) poorer Indians change phone numbers much more frequently than richer ones, making them harder to reach if telephone sampling lists are not constantly updated, and 2) in rural areas, the male head of the family is often the keeper of the phone. Dr. Kumar also mentioned lower response rates. CSDS recently conducted a telephone survey of Delhi that yielded a response rate of 25%, with which he was very disappointed. I told him that many US pollsters would kill for that response rate in a telephone survey (RRs in US telephone polls are often in the single digits).

Bihar will be the first election poll on which I work with CSDS. It will also be the last before the spring of next year, when the states of Kerala, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, and Assam will be holding their elections. In between Bihar’s elections and the election extravaganza of next spring, CSDS expects to field some national surveys about different social issues. I am very excited to be working on all these projects, starting next Monday.

I should mention that Dr. Kumar told me it was OK to publish this information on my blog. CSDS is a social science research institute that is largely funded by the Indian Council of Social Science Research under the Ministry of Human Resource Development. Their poll results are widely disseminated, they publish their questionnaires and methods statements on the Lokniti website, and they make their data available to other researchers (some of them for a price). Lokniti is often asked by politicians, political parties, and companies to conduct surveys, but they turn them down since their mission is to do high-quality survey research that can be shared with the public.

Dr. Kumar also quickly showed me the Lokniti office, and I awkwardly introduced myself to my new colleagues. Then I took the Metro back to Barakhamba Road to look at apartments.

Task 2

I returned just in time to meet up with the two other grantees with which I’ll be sharing an apartment this year. A realtor who has worked with Fulbright for some time took us around South Delhi, and we looked at apartments in four different neighborhoods: one in Safdarjung, one in Green Park, one in Saket (all three of these are along the Yellow Line), and two in Lajpat Nagur (along the Violet Line). One was clearly better than all the others, and I’m not going to say which it was just yet, because we agreed to sleep on it before finally pulling the trigger. More about the apartment and neighborhood once we move, of course.



Imagine a crepe made of lentils and rice, stuffed with potatoes and dipped in spicy sauces. What you have is a masala dosa, a Tamil treat, and the perfect ailment to soothe one’s disquieted soul after five hours of weaving through the clustered, horn-filled streets of Delhi.


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