AC NIELSON/DEMOCRACY INTERNATIONAL OPINION POLLS
Speculative impact of Shahbagh movementby Syeed Ahamed
NEW Age has recently published a series of news articles based on the findings of five periodic polls conducted by AC Nielsen and Democracy International. The articles present some interesting evidence to our otherwise speculative political discourse. David Bergman, the author of those articles, also wrote an op-ed making a number of intriguing observations based on the poll findings.
However, one of Bergman’s ten observations about the possible impact of the Shahbagh movement and related events contradicts with the very statistics he published.
According to the polls, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party witnessed a surge in popular support since November 2012, while support for the Awami League increased by a few percentage points. While reporting this data, Bergman noted that ‘the polls provide no clear reasons for the swing to the BNP between November 2012 and July 2013.’ He, however, added that ‘although the nine months period included four war crimes trials convictions, the ensuing political violence, the Shahbagh protests, allegations against “bloggers”, the two Hefajat rallies in Dhaka, and fuel price increases, some or all which may have been factors.’
First of all, ‘four war crimes trials convictions’ cannot be the cause behind the swing towards the BNP, since 86 per cent of the respondents said that they personally wanted the currently active war crimes trials to proceed, despite concerns that the respondents also have over the fairness.
Can the ‘Shahbagh protests’ and ‘allegations against bloggers’ be the factors behind the swing? In the op-ed, Bergman observed that ‘it is possible that support for the BNP reflected the party winning the “ideological” wars that ensued following the Shahbagh protests and the rise of Hefajat-e-Islam.’ He explained that ‘the way these issues played themselves out following the Quader Molla war crimes conviction—and, in particular, how the BNP-supporting media turned the Shahbagh debate into one about Islam—played into the BNP’s favour.’ These observations, Bergman noted, are made ‘from the figures that New Age published’.
However, according to the poll data, most of the respondents (69 per cent of 66 per cent of the total respondents who knew about the movement) thought that the ‘reason’ behind the Shahbagh movement was to ‘demand justice/capital punishment’. Only 19 per cent thought that the purpose of Shahbagh movement was ‘anti-Islamist’.
Evidently, Bergman’s observation of the BNP winning the ‘ideological war’ where BNP-supporting media ‘turn[ed] the Shahbagh debate into one about Islam’ is clearly unsupported by the figures.
The figures rather established that the Shahbagh movement had little to do with the support for the BNP. It shows that 61 per cent of the respondents did not think that the Shahbagh movement would have any impact on the next general elections. Although only 7 per cent thought it would assist the BNP, other 24 per cent considered that it would help the Awami League.
The poll also shows that support for the Awami League remained unchanged (at 28 per cent) between January and April 2013 (with a slight increase by July), meaning no apparent impact of Shahbagh on its popularity. On the other hand, the BNP gained much of its momentum between November 2012 and January 2013, i.e. way before the Shahbagh movement happened. During this whole period, share of undecided voters also remained unchanged, showing no visible impact of Shahbagh on popularity swings.
It was not surprising that the perception on the Shahbagh movement was also divided on party lines. Most AL supporters (60 per cent) supported the Shahbagh movement while most BNP supporters (71 per cent) opposed them. From the perspective of cause and effect relationship, the Shahbagh movement did not cause any swing in political support, though political preference of the respondents influenced their support for Shahbagh.
Bergman’s claim that ‘nearly twice as many people were against, rather than in favour, of the Shahbagh movement’ also appear to be very speculative.
According to his articles that cited the poll, 31 per cent mentioned that ‘their friends and family’ supported or highly supported the Shahbagh movement, while 51 per cent of their ‘friends and family’ were against or highly against it. While it’s not ‘nearly twice as many’, the result doesn’t even reflect the direct opinions of the respondents. Hypothetically, it’s possible for most respondents to support the movement, and at the same time presume that their friends and family do not support it.
As far as the poll figures are concerned, one can at best argue that irrespective of political preference, most respondents wanted the war crimes trials to proceed. Most of the respondents also thought that the Shahbagh movement was about demanding justice/capital punishment. After the recent verdict by the Supreme Court on Quader Molla case, one can even argue that the respondents were right and Shahbagh has achieved its goal.
But the reasons behind the swings in political supports are anyone’s guess. Bergman’s observations about Shahbagh’s role in it are thus refuted by the very statistics he published.
Syeed Ahamed is a blogger at Sachalayatan.com.
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NEW Age has recently published a series of news articles based on the findings of five periodic polls conducted by AC Nielsen and Democracy International. The articles present some interesting evidence to... Full story
I THINK Syeed and I do agree on at least one thing. The polls provide no clear understanding of what has caused the BNP surge in the opinion polls. As he says, ‘the reasons behind the swings in political supports are anyone’s guess.’ Full story