The Washington-based Pew Research Center recently released a new India survey that shows that over two years into his tenure as prime minister, most Indians remain upbeat about Narendra Modi even as they see India playing a larger role in the world. Bruce Stokes, director of global economic attitudes at Pew Research Center, spoke to Nalin Mehta about the survey’s findings on Indian political attitudes, why Congress and Sonia Gandhi’s favourability ratings have also increased in the past year and what India thinks about Modi’s handling of Pakistan:
Your survey found that a strong majority of 81% of Indians continue to have a favourable view of Modi. How does that compare to leaders in similar countries?
We found about 8 in 10 Indians have a favourable view of Modi. That was down 6 percentage points from last year but when you are talking of a stratosphere of around 80% it doesn’t really matter that much. In comparative terms, the popularity of the US president in our most recent poll was 52%. Donald Trump says 82% of Russians like Putin. I am not sure where he got that data but in functioning democracies this approval rating of the Indian prime minister is really good and consistent.
But isn’t there a partisan gap when people assess Modi’s performance?
A majority of people who favour the Congress party, also have a favourable view of Modi. However, while most people have a very favourable view of the current PM, Congress people have only a somewhat favourable view. Fifty per cent or so of Congress-leaning people we interviewed had a very favourable or somewhat favourable view of Modi but only half of that 50% had a very favourable view. Whereas BJP people overwhelmingly said very favourable.
When you ask specific questions about his conduct in office, about whether he gets things done, whether he understands people’s issues, you see a much more partisan gap. BJP people are much likely to say yes than Congress people. This gap between BJP and Congress supporters has become bigger. Congress people are more critical of Modi this year than they were last year and interestingly BJP people are happier with him this year than they were last year.
What about the PM’s handling of Pakistan?
We asked a number of questions about how he was handling relations with Pakistan, China and the US. The greatest criticism was in his handling of Pakistan. Fifty per cent of the population was critical. This survey was done before the Kashmir unrest this year so we don’t know what people will say today. The public in India has an overwhelmingly negative view of Pakistan. They criticised Modi’s handling of it.
Sonia Gandhi’s approval rating has also gone up from 58% last year to 65% in 2016, and Rahul Gandhi’s from 62% to 63% in your surveys. Have you been surprised?
This is a party that ran the country for most of its existence. My intuition would tell me that there is a core bedrock of people who are Congress people, whose parents were Congress people. A lot of them in the last election were clearly frustrated. My guess is their frustration with Congress has waned a bit now.
Arvind Kejriwal’s approval rating dropped 10%. Why do you think so?
AAP had seemed to emerge as his third alternative but other than Delhi they have not materialised as a nationwide movement. This was a nationwide survey and there was quite a high level of ‘I don’t know’ answers about AAP. For example, when we asked about Kejriwal, 23% said ‘we don’t know’ compared to 3% about Modi. A lot of people either didn’t know who we were talking about or hadn’t thought about it. In a lot of places, especially rural and southern India, AAP is not a factor.
But your polling sample is only 2,464 people nationwide. How can you be so confident with this sample size?
In our experience the design of a survey matters, not the number of people interviewed. The Economist calls us the gold standard of public opinion surveys because of our methodology. In the US we have for the last 20 years been the most accurate predictor of elections. In India, we predicted a landslide for Modi. We were right and every other pollster was wrong. I would love to interview 25,000 people but it’s a question of resources. India is an emerging power and the world needs to know what Indians think as it affects what the Indian government does.