Today is my eighth day in Delhi. I’m kind of chomping at the bit to get started here, if you can’t tell from my previous posts: my research, my apartment, my life. I get the sense that my fellow Fulbright scholars feel the same. A number of us are still checked into the Hans Hotel, compiling documents to register with the Indian government, sorting out housing arrangements, and checking in with our research affiliates. Fortunately, I am resolving a number of these matters this week: tonight we are moving things over to our apartment in Lajpat Nagar, and tomorrow I meet with the foreign registration office, check out of the hotel, and complete my move. I’m also transitioning to a regular working schedule with CSDS over the next two weeks. The pieces are beginning to come together.
Today I returned to CSDS; based on my conversations with Dr. Kumar, it sounds like I will be working a regular five-day workweek schedule. I don’t yet have a working space at CSDS, so we met in his (powerfully air-conditioned) office to talk a little more about how polling for Bihar is going to work, once the election date is announced.
I was trying to get a sense of the timeline for how state election polling works. Once the election date is determined, will the Lokniti team begin developing a questionnaire? He said that their state election polling procedures are such a “well-oiled machine” that there isn’t really a strict timeline. The field coordinators and field team in Bihar are aware that an election is coming soon, so they will start discussing procedures more once the final date is determined. As for the questionnaire, about 60% of questions are retained from previous questionnaires, so updating the questionnaire and/or developing new questions is not such an arduous process.
Lokniti always fields surveys after elections, that is, they talk to voters immediately after they have voted on election day. However, they do not always field a pre-election poll, which is quite interesting. I asked Dr. Kumar why this is. He said that it entirely depends on whether they receive enough funds from different media organizations to run a pre-election poll. He then explained the delicate politics of running pre-election surveys to me.
CSDS receives a lot of requests from media organizations to run pre-election surveys. For many years, Dr. Kumar explained to media organizations that pre-election polls are not forecasts of election day; the data from these surveys convey only what would happen if the election were on the day of the survey. But, he says with clear frustration in his voice, media organizations never accurately explained this, and so CSDS was criticized if their survey results did not match the electoral results. Some critics accused CSDS of favoring one party or another. As a social science research organization largely funded by the government, CSDS’ reputation as an impartial interpreter of electoral politics is important to protect. So when they conduct pre-election polls, they try to field them as closely as possible to election day. It’s not yet clear if there will be enough funding to do a pre-election survey.
Dr. Kumar explained that data punching and analysis always take place between election day and the counting of the votes. I was confused by this at first–how could they punch the data and analyze it all in one day? India’s not like the United States in that the public knows the results of elections that very night. There is at least a two-day gap between the last day of voting (elections are often multi-day affairs in which different districts within a state vote on different days; this is the case in Bihar, which is India’s third largest state) and the reporting of results. So they have some time to punch and analyze the data from their pre- and post-election polls before the results are announced.
Without an office space, having not moved into my apartment yet or registered with the foreigner registration office, with no set date for the Bihar elections, I asked Dr. Kumar what I can do for my research in the meantime. “Familiarize yourself with the politics of Bihar,” he said. So I walked downstairs from the third floor of the CSDS complex — where Dr. Kumar’s office and the Lokniti office are — and sat down in the library on the ground floor. It’s not a very large room, perhaps thirty by twenty feet, and it’s not as well air-conditioned as Dr. Kumar’s office. Avinash, the kindly-looking librarian with thick glasses and a short, fluffy white beard, pointed me towards the stack of newspapers on the wooden table at the center, pinned down by a glass orb. I sat across from three college-age students quietly working on laptops, picked out the English-language newspapers, and started to read any article that made mention of Bihar. The Hindu and The Indian Express were recommended by Dr. Kumar for their commentary–his articles are sometimes featured in The Hindu; see my previous post for one such example—so I began with those before picking up The Times of India and Hindustan Times.
What did I learn from this first day of background research? The politics of Bihar are quite complex, involving many parties and shifting coalitions, and it is going to take some time to familiarize myself with all of them. I will write an explainer blog post similar in structure to my first post on the background of Bihari politics, but that might not be for a little while (by the way, I ripped the format of that explainer post from Vox). In the meantime, I need to study up on the following people, parties, and terms:
Lalu Prasad Yadav
RJD (Rashtriya Janata Dal)
JD(U) (Janata Dal (United))
Ram Nath Kovind
Badh Chala Bihar campaign
CPI (Communist Party of India)
AIMIM (All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen)
BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party)
NDA (National Democratic Alliance)
Indian National Congress
NCP (Nationalist Congress Party)
Article 371 of Indian constitution
Pradesh Congress Committee
2010 Bihar elections