It’s not easy to read the mind of voters in Karnataka
Guest Column: BS Murthy

It is said finally, voting is viewed as an expression of whom people think they are. Voting is also a habit in a country like India where every voter votes for assembly, parliament, local bodies, upper houses apart from scores of his individual associations like co-operative societies, universities, etc. We love this habit. Because as a social animal man votes because he wants to blend into his social group, community and does not want to be left out of the social dialogue and the connects that brings in.

It is nightmarish time for pollsters and psephologists in the south state of Karnataka. The political climate and equations can change at jet speed and therefore it has become an impossible task to understand the mind of the voter, his/her behaviour and the factors determining his/her decision. The decision of the voter is the sum of all the events, circumstances, perceptions s/he experiences through the last 1 year of the governance. Voter’s memory is short and his recall value is usually the work of last one year and visibly what he sees, feels about the incumbent government determines who he is voting for. As a state land-locked on three sides and culturally and linguistically has Marathi, Telugu and Tamil people in its fold, key political developments in those respective states will have impact on people’s voting behaviour in Karnataka.

Elections are the biggest behavioural change events we see globally. It is the season where millions change their mind based on the narratives offered by different stakeholders. Change of behaviour happens in three key steps: one when the voter is motivated, two he has the ability to drive that change decision and three something triggers him finally to change his decision and exercises it on the voting day. Party which gets the trigger right gets the floating votes. In India, all the work is devoted towards getting the trigger right, remember “Chaiwala” comment by Mani Shankar Aiyar before 2014 elections? The Chaiwala blurb from Aiyar was the trigger for Modi to use to drive the floating votes. Few other successful triggers I can recall are Maa, Mati Manush coined by Mamatha Banerjee, ab ki bar, Modi sarkar connected very well with aam janata while Kejriwal phir se was another in Delhi elections which worked wonders for AAP. Triggers need to evoke strong emotional connect to work with voters. Parties are always searching for triggers to get them the last few percentage winning votes.

State elections are a sum of all national issues, state issues, and local issues and emotional connects like language, native  identity and threat to native opportunities. Finally, all these are represented by few individuals/leaders with who the voter connects on these issues. Leader reflects these issues or solutions based on how he narrates them to his voters.  Looking at my state of Karnataka, what key information is voters consuming off late? What is likely to impact? Is there any major behavioural change we see? The key narratives offered by parties by parties in this election in Karnataka are Kumara Parva by JDS, Sada Sidda Sarkara and Hasivu Mukta Karnataka (Hunger free Karnataka) by Congress is a good connect emotionally and no narrative yet by BJP as they believe Modi and Amit Shah are their final triggers for votes. This is the season for keyword kings and queens, Wordsmiths and linguists who understand how to search and match the voters mind for a specific outcome. The art of messaging is on display, party which decentralises its messaging to specific regions in the state will have better connect and outcomes. Interesting will be this election, in the tech savvy state of Karnataka, where the voter has refused to toe the communal line.

The cup will go to parties with strong linguistic identity and pride. Job growth and peaceful society narratives seem to be the flavour in South India and it might just work well in Karnataka as well.

There are two routes to the mind of the voter: the primary and the secondary. The primary route is about using logic, truth and objectivity to explain and build a narrative and reach out. The second one is about building a narrative using emotions, personality based appeal and through building likability for a particular candidate to persuade the voters. This season in India the secondary route is winning as the issues projected to the voters are usually comprise of socio-economic related and the voter has little ability to devote time to understand and make a decision based on that. Secondary appeal is a shortcut to the voters mind and a candidate mastering this likely take the cup in the end. It is about the quantum of news/information the voter consumes and the flood of emotions, around high profile events, he gets under. All these indirectly or directly shape his voting behaviour. Traumatic events influences specific voting groups locally or state-wide and they can bring out behaviours hitherto unseen.

BJP seems to have mastered the secondary art of persuasion and has hit winning streak across 18 state elections and one national election. It is not expected to tone down on that or rather increase the bandwidth in this space for 2019 general elections.

(The author is a political analyst  and human resource consultant based in Bangalore)