Barring one of the earliest surveys of the kind in the country, in 1989, none has proved right in Tamil Nadu’s case, says N Sathiya Moorthy.
Even as exit polls have given sleepless nights to the political class across the board in Tamil Nadu, the state’s voters are busy looking elsewhere with greater concern.
In their radar just now is not the May 19 results to the assembly polls, held three days earlier, but the results of the state board’s Plus-Two results that came a day later, on May 17 -- followed now by choosing and deciding their wards’ academic future.
The voter’s residual interest/concern is centred on the summer rains that have lashed across most parts of the state beginning with poll eve, and continuing possibly until counting day.
The local media, both print and television, has naturally reflected the common man’s interests than that of the political class -- though all of them would be swinging back to the other end of the pendulum at least on counting day.
For now, the voter is giving the smug smile that it’s all over and that he has asserted his democratic right, to perform his constitutional duty.
It’s another thing that ‘he’ includes ‘she’ and more women have voted in the state than men this time than in the past.
Does it indicate any prediction that could hold good over the results? No.
Does the relatively lower polling-rate compared to the recent past indicate anything? No.
Any prediction linking poll percentages to results in Tamil Nadu is as good as pre-election surveys and exit polls coming true in the state.
They never have come true in the past.
Even this time round, exit polls have thrown up extremely different sets of results, broadly divided between the ruling All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and the rival DMK.
Any marginal differences are within these two spectrums, not against them, or beyond them.
If there is any commonality in all exit polls, it relates to the irrelevance of the third front under actor Vijayakanth, the Pattali Makkal Katchi, which promoted Anbumani Ramadoss as chief minister candidate, and the Bharatiya Janata Party -- which is nowhere in the picture, as in all earlier elections to the state assembly.
It’s not without reason(s). For long now, Tamil Nadu, unlike in most other states, has a continuing /swelling rank of 25-35 per cent non-party, non-committed voters, who swing to the two Dravidian political extremes with each assembly election in particular, since the ’eighties.
Without knowing or talking to one another, they have almost always cast a ‘strategic vote’, if only to ensure that there is no split verdict or ‘hung assembly’.
This is so despite the fact that the state has recorded a consistent 10 per cent vote share for a ‘third alternative’ of whatever kind with each passing decade, if not each passing election.
This time again, the fight that sounded multi-cornered for the record, but looked three-cornered otherwise, ended up almost as a straight fight between the DMK and the AIADMK.
It looks like the third front may have lost out even on playing ‘spoilsport’, which title could rest, if at all, with Ramadoss’s and their PMK -- but in a few constituencies.
If the third front makes a difference to the result, it would still mostly be in the independent company of the PMK, not on its own in most cases.
Or, so it would still seem now.
Going by the last days’ campaign trends, it became increasingly clear that the third front under Vijayakanth lost the script even before they had come together.
Despite vehement denials this time, past experience of the voter showed that Vijayakanth had the habit of negotiating with the ‘Big Two’ Dravidian parties, and settle for the highest bidder (in terms of seat share, post-poll arrangement, etc).
On board as the late and latest entrant was the revived Tamil Maanila Congress of former Union minister G K Vasan.
The party had waited until after the AIADMK had turned its back on an alliance before joining the ‘third alternative’.
The existing partners welcomed the TMC with open arms, to the dismay of their collective cadre strength, and more so the swing voters who wanted to see a ‘third alternative’ emerge.
Original partners in the Communist Party of India and CPI-Marxist could not poll more than one per cent vote when contesting independent of a Dravidian ally in the 2014 LS polls.
Another original partner in Thol Thirumavalavan’s VCK has the inherent potential of consolidating more votes against the alliance as he was capable of consolidating in their favour.
His campaign-in-chief in MDMK’s Vaiko spoilt the script all along, to the utter satisfaction of their DMK/AIADMK rivals.
By walking out of a TV interview when charged with big-time bribe-taking to split Opposition votes, without answering the query, the vocal and vociferous Vaiko let the mischief-ridden stigma go uncleared.
By choosing to contest in native Kovilpatti constituency after a two-decade break, and announcing it late in the day, he let even allies believe that all his efforts at forming the third front was driven by personal ambition.
As it turned out, a combination of electoral and caste factors ensured that Kovilpatti could be the safest seat in the state that Vaiko could hope for.
Later on, he shocked supporters and adversaries alike, and rocked the third front no end, after going up to the Returning Officer’s office in a procession and returning without filing the nomination.
His justification that the DMK was out to trigger caste clashes in the constituency if he contested did not sell even with his cadres, leave aside allies and adversaries.
Even otherwise, TV talk show analysts, especially after the exit polls, have got their numbers wrong. Comparing the electorate in the two successive assembly polls (5.82 crores in 2016 and 4.70 crores in 2011), they have concluded that more than a fifth are ‘new, young voters’ this time.
Either they have forgotten it, or the figure is not as exciting, but the fact remains that after the 2014 LS polls (5.5 crores), the increase in the number of new voters is only a low 32 lakhs, or 0.5 per cent.
Whatever the results, the analysts might have been right had the state handed down a split-verdict in the LS polls. It was not to be.
The ruling AIADMK swept the polls with 37 of 39 seats and by huge margins -- polling 45 per cent vote-share.
The party’s historic poll rival in the DMK parent drew a blank in terms of seats and had to settle for 26.5 per cent vote-share along with the VCK ally in particular.
The Congress, contesting alone then and with the DMK this time, polled 4.5 per cent vote-share, but the TMC has split away from it.
The BJP-NDA polled a very respectable 17.5 per cent vote-share for the PM candidate in Narendra Modi.
The BJP and PMK partners are also going alone this time, with the latter expected to do far better than the former, both in terms of vote and seat-shares.
The BJP and the Modi leadership cannot escape the blame of not doing enough and right -- ‘intolerance’ was also a factor in the state -- to build up on the NDA’s gains from 2014.
If one or the other pre-poll surveys proves right -- that includes exit polls -- that would be an accident. Barring one of the earliest surveys of the kind in the country, in 1989, none has proved right in Tamil Nadu’s case.
In that election, The Hindu-Apt Services survey gave the DMK a clear lead after 13 years in vanvas when the late AIADMK founder M G Ramachandran was around.
In the 2001 assembly polls, every survey and exit poll gave the ruling DMK a clear lead, but the rival AIADMK won similar number of seats and vote-share (though in the company of strong allies).
In the subsequent 2006 assembly polls, Vijayakanth’s nascent DMDK split away the traditional ‘third alternative’ vote, adding over eight per cent at the time, and the DMK-led ‘victory alliance’ won after all.
In both 2001 and 2006, the victory margins were low in individual constituencies, thus justifying the error in surveys to more than the permissible plus-or-minus five per cent.
This time round, the poll percentage is lower than in the 2011 assembly elections, for instance -- 74.26 per cent, against 78.12 per cent.
But given the higher number of registered voters, 61.20 lakh more voters have cast their vote this time.
That again should add up to the confusion in pre-results calculations and predictions.
So should be the multi-cornered contests across the state, which could keep victory margins low -- even to a few hundred votes -- and the victor unpredictable.
Add to that the summer rains that rocked polling in many constituencies, spread across the state, and the confusion gets confounded -- and keeping pollsters and politicians on tenterhooks and alike until after the final figures had passed on...
But the Tamil Nadu voter’s greater worry is not the same as that of the other two classes.
They are concerned about repairing the damage to the fair name of their state, which the unprecedented levels of ‘cash-for-vote’ scam and ‘from-cover-to-container’ complaints have brought forth this time, more than any time in the past.
Image: People wait in queues to cast their votes for Tamil Nadu Assembly polls in Chennai on May 18, 2016. Photograph: R Senthil Kumar/PTI Photo.
N Sathiya Moorthy, veteran journalist and political analyst, is director, Observer Research Foundation, Chennai Chapter.