UP elections and the availability bias

The ongoing UP elections is seen as a referendum on many things. Foremost many see the outcome as an indicator of electorate verdict on the demonetisation. Secondly, they see it as midcourse check on the performance of narendramodi government. Few also see it as a semi-final of sorts to the parliamentary election in 2019.

UP despite being a constant laggard on various economic, social and human indicators is ironically an important state influencing the political affairs of the country. Modi’s much touted win in 2014 came with a substantial contribution from UP and hence it earned the tag of deciding the fate of prime minister(s). Historically it has played a key role and hence no controversy around that.

The first phase of UP polls registered around 64% turnout. I wouldn’t gamble picking my bets on the election basis voter turnout as that is something pollsters are trained to do. The BJP made a spectacular return to UP by winning most of the seats in their 2014 parliamentary election and therefore would be expected to repeat its past performance. With the passage of time and given that this is assembly elections, while the same success cannot be guaranteed, they are still the party to beat in the UP election.

SP is seen a genuine challenger to BJP and many factors are attributed to this. The newly formed SP-congress alliance, caste arithmetic, Muslim votes, Akhilesh’s popularity with the youth voters, demonetisation impact on trader community etc.

Beyond all this I feel one significant aspect has not been given due spotlight. The high decibel family feud played out right under the media glare would have much to contribute to its campaign than one can imagine.

In the run up to the elections, two events did occupy the national limelight during this period. Yadav family feud and state of Tamil Nadu. These are the events that enjoyed huge media devotion in the run up to the UP elections.

The roller-coaster family feud with many flip flops involving Shivpal-Rampal- Akhilesh and Mulayam captured much of media attention with national channels running a non-stop coverage on the family feud. One might think why a family feud which projected the family in bad light could even be considered a threat to BJP’s prospects.

BJP who seemed to be the clear front runner owing to its spectacular feat in the parliamentary elections are having a huge challenge to out-manoeuvre this high visibility state for SP and draw attention back to them. BJP’s current campaign focusing on development all the allegations of the UP’s first family wouldn’t make the necessary dent because of lack of novelty.

This high media visibility that SP managed to garner lends a formidable case for ‘availability bias’s for the average UP voter. Availability bias operates successfully through recent events, vivid images leading to greater impact on the estimation of probability, especially political choices. In simple words it gives you a greater share or voice.

The family drama was novel, it had high charge emotional drama ingredients essential for grabbing attention and staying in memory for long time.  The very fact that the media spectacle played out for a longer duration of time it gave the young CM much needed visibility and less media attention to BJP. It gave a favourable image of a young scion who is trying to make a difference against all the odds that are staked against him.


There are some who are already saying that this entire family feud is staged and part of grand plan. I think there is merit in this theory as it managed to certainly take the wind out of the BJP’s sail. It will be interesting to see whether this strategy will pay enough dividends and win them the coveted elections.

The only new thing under the present circumstances would be to name a chief minister candidate to turn the tide in favour of BJP. An offer the BJP electorate cannot refuse and would win back the attention.


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