Election Day in Bihar: Field Notes from Patna

NOTE: The Electoral Commission of India prohibits the release of trends from exit polls before voting has been completed: 5 PM on November 5, in the case of the Bihar elections. Please note that the observations in this post are purely anecdotal and not indicative of any broader trends. To comply with ECI regulations, the names of information related to polling stations has been redacted until such information can be released at 5 PM on November 5.

UPDATE: The names of polling stations have now been added to this post (3:37 PM, November 12).

Last week, I traveled to Patna to observe CVoter’s exit polls in Patna during the third phase of the elections. I traveled with Ajit Shukla, the Qualitative Manager from CVoter. Below are my field notes from our visit to the polling stations on Wedneday, October 28 and the debriefing we held at the hotel with four field investigators on Thursday, October 29.

Wednesday, October 28

What is striking about Election Day in Patna is that the roads are nearly empty. The exhaust fumes and barrage of honking that filled the roads the day before are replaced with quiet, punctuated every so often by a police car driving by with election officials or the odd rickshaw. During voting hours — 7 AM to 5 PM — private vehicles are not allowed on the road. The city is effectively militarized by the police who are under the charge of the Electoral Commission of India.

Ajit and I started at one of the polling stations in Patliputra around 10 AM. Very few people had voted by this time. The field investigator with whom we had spoken had only talked to one voter thus far. It appeared that most people at the polling station — in an area that traditionally supported the BJP — would not be voting until the evening.

We were able to catch a ride to BN College, closer to downtown Patna. Along the way, we talked to the driver and his friend, who were both supporting the JD(U). The man in the passenger seat was supporting JD(U) even though he also liked Modi.

At the polling station at BN College, we encountered four women before walking near the station. One was a Gujarati woman married to a Bihari. When I asked her how she would vote, she told me, “We are reasonable people. We are voting for the BJP. Narendra Modi is my personal hero. I saw he handled the Gujarat riots in 2002.” Her three friends, from the Banya caste, were also supporting the BJP.

We approached the exit poll interviewer from CVoter. His coding sheet suggested the BJP was heavily favored at this polling station. We also spoke to a journalist from the Patna edition of Hindustan, who was curious about the research we were doing.

From BN College, we took a bicycle rickshaw to a polling station that was near Hathwa Market. The surrounding neighborhood appeared to have a sizable Muslim population, based on the mosque. We spoke to an old man with a beard who said that he was supporting Nitish because he had worked hard for the development. A group of men standing near the roadside were all Nitish supporters, except for one, who said he was supporting the BJP because “traditionally he supports the BJP.” We talked to a chaiwallah who said he was supporting Nitish because of the development he brought to Patna. His wife, standing close by, told us, “Whatever my husband does [with regard to voting], I am with my husband.”

Speaking to the exit poll interviewer, we learned that this polling station would be a close fight between the NDA and the grand alliance. There was a long queue of voters going into the polling station.

From this polling station, we walked towards the Patna Junction railway station. Along the way, we spoke to a couple who were supporting Nitish. The man said he was supporting Nitish because of “development,” while his wife — who was from Bengal — mentioned that she was supporting Nitish because of his programs to give out bicycles, school uniforms, books, and monthly scholarships. We spoke to one store owners who said he was voting for “Those who are winning, so we don’t destroy our votes.” When we asked him who he meant by this, he said he was voting for the BJP.

We took a bicycle rickshaw to get the rest of the way to Patna Junction. Our rickshaw puller was voting for Nitish because of his development record and his promises to do more development programs for the poor. We spoke to a chaiwallah who said he was a Kurmi voting for the BJP because he did not want Lalu to return to power and bring back “jungle raj.” We also spoke to a Muslim who was voting for Congress.

The fourth and last polling station we came to was in Phulwari Sharif. It is a heavily Muslim dominated area on the outskirts of Patna. We spoke to the exit poll interviewer there, who said that getting respondents to reveal their vote choice was challenging. This was reflected in his codesheet, which showed many “99”s of the ten or so respondents he had talked to. These “99”s symbolized “Don’t Know”s; most of these respondents did not want to reveal their votes to the interviewer, though they had told him the issues which they were considering when voting. We spoke to two men in the area who were JD(U) supporters; however, most people we talked to were very hesitant to share their vote intention. Ajit told me that this is often the case with Muslim respondents.

Thursday, October 29

We held a debriefing with four of the interviewers from CVoter’s exit polls — one was the interviewer from BN College (he had previously worked as a CATI interviewer for CVoter), one was the field coordinator for Hajipur (he had more than eight years of experience conducting field research), one was an interviewer in Digha (he had been working as a field investigator for CVoter for about six months), and another was the interviewer from the first polling station which we had visited in Patliputra (he had been working as a field investigator for CVoter for the last few months). I asked questions in English, which Ajit translated into Hindi. Ajit then translated the interviewers’ responses in Hindi back into English.

The interviewers said that the issues that mattered most to voters were “development,” “development and inflation,” “development and change of power,” and “development and change of government.” All four interviewers reported that respondents were most comfortable speaking with them about the issues that they considered while voting, and least comfortable speaking about whom they would be voting for. They all reported that Hindu and male voters were more willing to speak with them. Women, OBCs, SCs, STs, and Muslims were less likely to speak with respondents. Interviewers reported that roughly 20% of respondents did not want to respond to questions about how they voted.

I closed the debriefing by asking the interviewers who they thought would win in their polling stations, and who they thought would win the election. The interviewer for BN College thought the NDA would win, projecting a 60/40 margin. The coordinator for Hajipur thought it would be close in Hajipur, perhaps 50/50. The interviewers for Patliputra and Digha both thought the NDA would win their polling stations. All four interviewers predicted an NDA victory for all of Bihar.

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Patliputra neighborhood

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Gandhi maidan: These expansive field grounds in the heart of Patna are where the Quit India Movement was launched in 1942

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The world’s largest statue of Gandhi is located in Gandhi maidan

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Golghar: A granary built by the British in 1786, after the famine of 1770 killed 10 million people in Bihar and Bengal

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The view from atop Golghar. Patna traffic on the day before the election

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Facing west from atop Golghar

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Facing north

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Jay Prakash Nagar

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Election Day: Voters emerge from the polling station

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The roads are quiet on Election Day

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Bicycle rickshaws are the easiest way to get around Patna on Election Day

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An ink marking is left on voters’ fingers to prevent voter fraud

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6 thoughts on “Election Day in Bihar: Field Notes from Patna

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