LAHORE: A sizeable majority of people believe it is not PTI chief Imran Khan, PPP’s Bilawal Bhutto or Asif Zardari, but Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif who can take the country into the league of developed nations, according to a political attitudes survey conducted by a team of scholars from the Harvard University and Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS).
The survey – conducted in three National Assembly constituencies of Lahore ie, NA 121, 122 and 124 – details that the voters were more concerned about the economic issues, such as the purchasing power and unemployment.
It further says, “Corruption is an important issue for a sizeable minority, but anti-corruption campaigns that do not tackle economic issues are unlikely to resonate. Several public services, including education, health, water, electricity and security matter for voters, but improvement in no one service is likely to swing the election.”
The findings show that there is cautious optimism among voters regarding their own financial condition, but they are also giving measured praise to the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) for its performance in tackling their issues.
“While voters are polarised on the question of Nawaz and Shehbaz Sharif’s honesty, a big majority thinks they are capable of taking Pakistan into the league of developed nations,” says the survey, adding that “an overwhelming majority rejects that Imran Khan is dishonest, but at this stage of Election 2018, and in these three constituencies, he is seen less favourably as the leader to take Pakistan into the league of developed nations.”
The findings reveal that the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) is trailing behind the PML-N in terms of party support in the three constituencies, but in terms of voting intention, there is a large proportion of voters who are still undecided and the election will rest on where they sway. “The proportion who states they will vote for the PML-N are close to, but not quite a majority,” it adds.
The survey findings are an important indication of how political parties need to fine-tune their election campaigns as they gear up for the 2018 elections. “Our first political attitudes survey focuses on Lahore, the battle-ground between the PML-N and PTI in the 2013 general elections. Reputable analysts expect a highly competitive Lahore election in 2018. Although the PML-N has traditionally dominated the city’s politics, Lahore has a large demographic of educated and young voters that are argued to play in PTI’s favour. Hence, we kick off our series with Lahore. In the future, we plan to extend the survey to a wider set of constituencies that represent important battlegrounds critical to the 2018 general election,” says the survey report.
It further says: “Our first political attitudes survey analyses what registered voters think in NA-122 where the PML-N won by a whisker in 2013 and again in the 2015 by-election.
To gain contrast, we also conducted surveys in its neighbouring constituencies, NA 121 and NA 124, where the PML-N won by a substantial margin in the 2013 general election. However, in these two constituencies, we restrict our sample to PP-146 and PP-149 where the PML-N also won by a large margin in the last election.
This mix of constituencies is interesting because they lie in the heart of the city, are contiguous, vary in the intensity of electoral competition and comprise mixed settlements of people belonging to different socio-economic and income classes. We surveyed a total of 2,127 respondents over the age of 18, which included 51% female and 49% male respondents”.
“It is important to recognise that our survey gives the pulse of male and female voters’ opinion in our sample constituencies during January-February 2017. However, voter choices and attitudes are dynamic and will respond to many things such as campaigns, changing events and candidate choices made by parties. Therefore, tracking attitudes is as important as insights gained from a snapshot. It is also important to keep in mind that these results are not representative of all Pakistan, Punjab or Lahore constituencies. It is representative of a key battleground seat and two safe seats in the heart of Lahore. Our questionnaire was carefully designed and included questions that enable us to triangulate responses and this gives us tremendous confidence in our results,” commented the scholars in the report.
An important feature of the survey is that it is based on in-home interviews, which result in much higher response rates (71%) than is globally the case with online and internet surveys (which can be as low as 10-20%). The sampling methodology of this survey ensures that the team draws a random sample that is representative of male and female registered voters in specific national and provincial assembly constituencies of interest.
According to the survey report, within service delivery, electricity doesn’t stand out as the most important issue. This is what the current survey shows but this could reflect seasonality as the survey was conducted in winter months with low load shedding.
This issue needs to be tracked closely in future. The extreme emphasis placed by our respondents on purchasing power would suggest that the future direction of voter concerns regarding electricity is unlikely to be around availability and instead will be around electricity prices. Given that electricity supply was one of the main manifesto items for the PML-N in 2013, any negative shocks to electricity supply before the election could still end up hurting them.
“Our respondents are giving measured praise for how well the incumbent PML-N governments have done in addressing the issues that matter, with 40% saying they have done fairly well. For the incumbent party, it is encouraging that an extremely small percentage of respondents say that the government has done fairly or very badly. This reinforces our earlier point about cautious optimism with the government. Given the issues, the voters are raising and their cautious optimism about their financial condition and government delivery, it is important for opposition parties to present a positive case for the economy and delivery as part of their campaign – otherwise, with the current trends in respondent perceptions, they are likely to lose considerable electoral ground. It is also important to understand that there is room to campaign on this issue as there is a tiny set of respondents who think that the PML-N governments are doing very well at handling important electoral issues,” says the survey.