AC NIELSEN OPINION POLLS
Significant swing towards BNP
AL hopes lie with ‘undecided voters’David Bergman
A series of international standard opinion polls conducted over the past year show a significant swing of popular support towards the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, putting the current opposition party in a strong position to win the next national elections due to take place before 24 January 2014, New Age can reveal.
The most recent poll conducted in July 2013 put BNP’s support at 43 points, 11 percentage points ahead of the Awami League and more than double the results of a November 2012 survey which at that time found the BNP’s support to be at only 20 per cent.
Although the headline result of the July 2013 poll is good news for the BNP, the Awami League still has much to play for as the survey found that 19 per cent of all voters — one fifth of the total electorate — had still not made up their mind.
The July 2013 poll does not appear to be a freak result as two opinion polls carried out between the two polls found the opposition party gradually gaining ground over the Awami League.
A January 2013 poll showed the BNP had increased its support to 32 percent and a poll in April found that the percentage of people willing to vote for the BNP had increased to 38.
Support for the Awami League had in the same period flat-lined — remaining unchanged in the January and April 2013 polls, and only rising slightly to 32 per cent in the most recent poll in July.
The question asked of all respondents was: ‘If the election is held today, which party would you think you are likely to vote for?’
The polls — which were shared with New Age — were conducted by the pollster AC Nielsen as part of the Democratic Participation and Reform programme, which is funded by the American and British aid bodies, USAID and UKAID, and implemented by the international non-governmental organisation Democracy International.
Whilst this is the first time that the results of the polls have been made public, they were shared with the four main political parties after the completion of each survey.
The polls, which involved face-to-face interviews with between 2,400 to 2,500 randomly selected people throughout Bangladesh, also asked their views on other issues of the day including the caretaker government, the war crimes trials and the Shahbagh protests (see adjoining articles).
Democracy International says that it uses the most modern statistical methods of polling employed elsewhere in the world and is confident that ‘statistically, the views of those surveyed accurately represent the opinions of all Bangladeshi voters with a margin of error of plus or minus 2 per cent.’
The poll results also show that whilst the BNP is currently more popular in all age categories, it has particular support amongst first-time voters, now aged 22 or under.
The preference of first-time voters is particularly significant as they are likely to account for about 15 per cent of the entire electorate at the next elections.
The July 2013 poll found that 46 per cent of the 18–22 age category supported the BNP whilst only 29 per cent supported the Awami League.
In 2006, at the time when the BNP was last in office, this cohort of voters was aged between 11 and 15 years, with little knowledge of the current opposition party’s period in office.
The BNP’s increased popular support is though not simply the result of its appeal to young voters; it is also due to former AL voters turning to the BNP.
All four polls between November 2012 and July 2013 show that almost a half of those who had voted for the Awami League in the 2008 election said that they would no longer vote for the party - with as many as 24 per cent of 2008 AL supporters stating in the July 2013 poll that they had changed their allegiance to the BNP.
In contrast, 90 per cent of those who voted for the BNP at the last election stated in July 2013 that they continued to support the party. In November 2012, this figure was only 70 per cent.
A particularly significant finding of the polls is how well the BNP is doing in those constituencies which historically, looking at the four elections results since 1991, the Awami League has won by healthy margins.
In the 41 constituencies which, on an average over the past four elections the Awami League candidate won by a margin of votes of between 7 and 14 percentage points (which Democracy International terms ‘AL-leaning’ seats) the July 2013 poll found that the BNP was, on an average, winning by a margin of 17 per cent (51 per cent the BNP to 34 per cent the Awami League).
And in the 72 constituencies which historically over the post-1991 elections, the AL candidate has won on an average by a margin of more than 14 percentage points — the ‘strong AL seats’ — the BNP, according to the July 2013 poll, was at level pegging with the Awami League (40 per cent the BNP to 38 per cent the Awami League).
The July 2013 poll also found that whilst the Awami League continues to have more support in rural (34 per cent) compared to urban areas (25 per cent), the BNP has greater support than the Awami League in both parts of the country, with support for the opposition party at 42 and 44 per cent in both rural and urban Bangladesh respectively.
The polls provide no clear reasons for the swing to the BNP between November 2012 and July 2013 although the nine months period included four war crimes trials convictions, the ensuring political violence, the Shahbagh protests, allegations against ‘bloggers,’ the two Hefazet rallies in Dhaka, and fuel price increases, some or all which may have been factors.
The last poll was undertaken after the four city corporation elections, held in June 2013.
Despite the swing to the BNP, a poll in January 2013, showed that the prime minister continues to have wide popular support — with 52 per cent of people saying that they ‘liked’ her. This was 2 percentage points less than the 54 per cent who ‘liked’ the opposition leader Khaleda Zia. The poll also found that 30 per cent of people did not like either leader.
Democracy International emphasised to New Age that the ‘views expressed in these surveys are those of the respondents who were selected using a statistical sampling method and do not necessarily reflect the views of the organisation or its donors, USAID/UKAID.’
Other articles in opinion poll series
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