WITH polling over in 38 of the 39 Lok Sabha constituencies in Tamil Nadu, it is clear that the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam-Tamil Maanila Congress front will win a minimum of 35 Lok Sabha seats in the State on the strength of 52.96 per cent of the popular vote. The All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam-Bharatiya Janata Party front will take no more than four seats at the maximum by garnering 31.62 per cent of the vote.
Actually, the gap between the two fronts has widened from 12.03 percentage points in a Frontline-Apt Research Group pre-election public opinion survey conducted between February 3 and 7 to 21.34 percentage points. There has been a considerable accretion of voter strength to the DMK-TMC front from its 42.46 per cent vote share in the earlier Frontline poll. The implied recovery almost to its May 1996 level of popular support - 54.86 per cent - makes the DMK-TMC front unbeatable and constitutes a remarkable achievement given the presumed disadvantages of incumbency.
A significant feature is the sharp decline in the Congress(I)'s vote share from 13.00 per cent to 4.83 per cent. This reflects the fading of the Sonia effect in the State. As a consequence, the contest has been essentially bipolar and the electoral situation not very different from the one that was obtained in May 1996. Clearly, the alliance Jayalalitha's AIADMK struck with the BJP in the State has turned out to be a misalliance.
These are the main findings of a Frontline-Apt Research Group post election survey/exit poll in 24 Assembly segments in four representative Lok Sabha constituencies. The post-election survey was conducted from February 18 to 20 in all six Assembly segments of a Lok Sabha constituency which went to the polls on February 16. The exit poll was conducted in all the 18 Assembly segments of three Lok Sabha constituencies which went to the polls on February 22. The total sample size was 1,739 and the forecasts of vote share carry a margin of error of 5 per cent in either direction.
It must be noted that 5.35 per cent of the respondents would not reveal their voting decisions. If the assumption can be made that votes of this segment were divided in the same proportion as in the rest of the sample, the DMK-TMC front could end up with 36 of the 39 seats.
There has been considerable speculation on the electoral impact of the Coimbatore serial bomb blasts. The latest Frontline-Apt Research Group poll shows that only one in 10 respondents reported a changed voting decision consequent to the Coimbatore tragedy. Among those who changed their voting decisions, 57.59 per cent reported having voted for the AIADMK-BJP combine and 19.62 per cent for the DMK-TMC-CPI front.
This post election survey/exit poll by the Apt Research Group constitutes the third round of an intensive exercise aimed at understanding voter intentions and decisions in Tamil Nadu so as to make scientifically-based forecasts of the electoral outcome. The first in the series was the Frontline-Apt Research Group Pre-election Public Opinion Survey conducted between February 3 and 7 and covering a sample of 4,470 eligible voters drawn from 24 Assembly segments of four representative Lok Sabha constituencies. The second in the series was the Sun TV-Apt Research Group Poll conducted in the same constituencies, using the same research instrument, between February 8 and 11; this poll covered a sample of 4,598 respondents. These earlier rounds had an estimated margin of error of three per cent either way.
The three important changes between the earlier rounds and the current round are:
significantly increased voter support for the DMK-TMC front and hence a wider gap between this front and the AIADMK-BJP combine; the transformation of a somewhat tripolar contest into a bipolar one; the disappearance, for all practical purposes, of any Sonia effect in a State where the Congress(I) is a sub-critical political force.
An important finding of the latest Frontline poll is the marginal impact of the Coimbatore calamity on voter decisions, belying speculations to the contrary in the political marketplace. Whether the tragedy has changed voter intentions in the Coimbatore Lok Sabha constituency, which goes to the polls on February 28, is being researched in a Frontline-Apt Research Group pre-election public opinion survey in all the six Assembly segments of the constituency.