Survey shows elections too close to call
By Ali Cheema and Asad Liaqat
A public opinion survey conducted by the Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI) and the Herald magazine shows that the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) enjoys a slim lead at the national level over the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PMLN).
This lead of 4 percentage points is outside the survey’s national margin of error – -/+1.3 percentage points – this, however, does not take into account the fact that 13 per cent of the respondents remain undecided. PMLN, in turn, is leading the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) by 5 percentage points.
In the election’s main battleground, Punjab, the survey shows a competitive race: PMLN has a province-wide lead of 7 percentage points over PTI which is outside the survey’s provincial margin of error of + 1.9 percentage points. What, however, is of concern for PMLN, and gives hope to PTI, is that outside central Punjab, the former’s 5 percentage points lead lies within the survey’s margin of error of + 2.6 percentage points in this region. This, combined with the fact that this region accounts for 55 per cent of the province’s National Assembly seats, makes the contest between the two parties a real cliffhanger.
What is missing in the current debate on elections in Punjab is that the final result will depend on how the undecided voters finally choose to cast their ballot and also how many voters turn out to vote on the polling day. The Herald-SDPI survey finds that 14 per cent of the respondents in Punjab remain undecided. It is this group of voters that will clearly determine the final result of the 2018 election. This finding is consistent with the polls conducted by Gallup and Pulse Consultants during May 2018 which also show that undecided voters hold the election in Punjab in the balance.
To win a majority in the province, therefore, PTI has to swing a substantial portion of the undecided voters to its side. PMLN, too, will need to ensure that a large part of these voters ultimately vote for it. To achieve these goals, the two parties will have to ensure a healthy turnout of their supporters at the polling booths.
The survey shows strong voting intentions among the supporters of both the parties. Approximately 70 per cent of their supporters have reported a ‘strong’ or ‘very strong’ intent to vote. A bigger challenge for both of them is that a much smaller portion of the undecided voters in Punjab (52 per cent) reports a ‘strong’ or ‘very strong’ intent to vote. Being able to get these voters out on the polling day will be the real organisational test for the two parties.
It is also important to underscore here that support for different parties as shown in the survey does not allow a forecast of the number of seats that each party can win. This is because of two key reasons. Firstly, how support for different parties as reported by the survey translates into vote shares at the national level depends on which way the 13 per cent undecided voters swing and which party can motivate its supporters to turn out in larger numbers on the polling day to vote. Secondly, the number of seats a party wins depends on how concentrated or spread out its support base is across constituencies. Because the survey sample is not representative at the constituency level, it is not possible to estimate whether and by how much the support bases for different parties are concentrated or spread out.
Outside Punjab, PMLN is facing another challenge: While 40 per cent of the survey respondents in the province support the party, backing for it falls dramatically in other provinces. It has 10 per cent support in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, 11 per cent in Balochistan and only 4 per cent in Sindh. To have a chance of forming the next federal government, it has to not only hold on to its lead in central Punjab but also win by more than a slim margin in the province’s districts outside this region.
The big question for the party is what effect Nawaz Sharif’s incarceration – and that of his daughter Maryam Nawaz Sharif – will have on the undecided voters in Punjab. Unfortunately, the timing of the survey precludes the possibility of assessing this effect.
For PTI, the path to forming the federal government runs through Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The party seems to have bucked the historical trend of anti-incumbency in the latter province and has sustained support there.
The survey shows that 42 per cent of the respondents in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa support PTI which has a 30 percentage point lead over other main contenders — PPP, Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) and PMLN. This is also in line with other polls.
Like PMLN, however, PTI has to convert its improved performance in polls in Punjab into a substantial win in terms of National Assembly seats. The key to this lies with the all-important undecided voters in the province as well as the party’s electoral performance in the districts outside central Punjab.
The survey shows that 54 per cent of the respondents in Sindh support PPP, giving it a substantial lead of 40 points over its challengers — PTI and Grand Democratic Alliance (GDA). The party’s continued dominance in Sindh is likely to make it an important player in the next parliament. If Punjab returns a divided verdict, PPP may end up having an important say in who forms the next federal government.
The survey also suggests that a major change may take place in Sindh’s urban areas where it is difficult to predict the victory of any party. The 2018 elections, thus, have the potential to open up politics in urban parts of the province if other parties are able to translate the reduced support for the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), as shown in the survey, into gains in terms of National Assembly seats.
Like urban Sindh, Balochistan appears to be a divided polity in terms of party support. No single party has a clear lead here – with PPP, PTI and PMLN enjoying between 11 per cent and 15 per cent support and MMA not being far behind at 8 per cent. Regional parties, such as the Balochistan National Party (BNP) and Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP), enjoy the support of 6 per cent and 4 per cent of the survey respondents respectively. This dispersed support suggests that the electoral fortunes of the province may be decided by the alliances and seat adjustments that different parties and candidates have made.
The Herald-SDPI survey was carried out in 55 districts across Pakistan between June 25 and July 12 this year, with 6,004 randomly chosen respondents — 2,848 from Punjab, 1,117 from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, 1,055 from Sindh and 984 from Balochistan. The sample is provincially representative in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan. In Punjab, the survey has a sample representative of both the central region (which includes the divisions of Lahore, Gujranwala and Sahiwal and the district of Faisalabad) and the rest of the province. In Sindh, the sample is representative of urban areas (which include Karachi and Hyderabad districts) as well as the rest of the province.
To collate the survey findings at the national level, provincial samples have been given weightage in accordance with each province’s actual share in the country’s latest population as per the census carried out in 2017. Within each province, district samples have been given weightage according to each district’s population share in the census. Provincial samples have been weighted to achieve an equal gender representation and also to reflect the educational attainment of the population as per the latest Pakistan Social and Living Standards Measurement survey.
What is half of Pakistan thinking?
By Ali Cheema, Sarah Khan and Asad Liaqat
Women make up 44 per cent of Pakistan’s 105,955,409 registered voters for the 2018 elections. While this reflects a lower proportion than their share in the adult voting age population, more Pakistani women are registered to vote than ever before.
This is because the Election Commission of Pakistan, along with other government institutions and civil society organisations, has recently undertaken serious efforts to close the gender gap in voter registration. These initiatives were specially targeted at areas and neighbourhoods with particularly low proportions of registered women voters. Consequently, women voters’ registration has increased by an impressive 24 per cent since 2013. Men’s voter registration, meanwhile, has increased by 22 per cent.
This change took place across all provinces: there has been a 25 per cent increase in women voters’ registration in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, a 27 per cent increase in Balochistan and, a slightly lower, 17 per cent increase in Sindh. Since a sizable gender gap in voter registration persists, we will need to achieve even higher rates of increase in women voters’ registration in the future to get to a gender-equal electorate.
This represents a marked change from past trends. For instance, men’s voter registration grew by 7.3 per cent between 2008 and 2013 while women’s registration only grew by 5.6 per cent in the same period.
Will registered women vote?
Voter registration is a necessary, but not a sufficient, condition for participation in voting. Translating registered votes into actual voter turnout at the polls depends upon personal motivation among voters, and the cost of time and travel to get to a polling station. It also requires voters to make up their minds about who to cast a vote for.
In the Herald and Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI) survey conducted between June 25 and July 12 this year, respondents across Pakistan were asked if they would turn out to vote in the 2018 election. Since voting is a socially desirable behaviour, survey respondents often tend to overstate their past and future participation in voting to appear more engaged with electoral politics than they really are. Given this caveat, as many registered women voters surveyed in Punjab, Sindh and Balochistan showed strong intent to vote as registered men voters surveyed in these areas did.
A stark exception to this was seen in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa where 56 per cent of registered male voters told the surveyors that there was a ‘good’ or a ‘certain’ chance that they would turn out to vote. Compared to this, only 41 per cent of the registered female voters reported similar readiness to vote. Despite the fact that there has been an impressive increase in women voters’ registration in the province, a significant gender gap in registered voters reporting strong likelihood of their participation in voting still exists.
In 2013, women in parts of at least eight constituencies in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa were barred from casting votes. Even if such outright bans are not enforced in 2018, a continued perception that women’s lower participation is an acceptable norm has the danger of dampening their motivation to turn out to vote.
What do women care about?
When respondents in the Herald-SDPI survey were asked about the biggest issue facing Pakistan at present, or what issue they thought parties should focus on, ‘purchasing power’ came out to be the most frequently given answer across all four provinces. Interestingly, it also appears to be a more salient issue for women than it is for men.
In the case of Punjab – where purchasing power came up during the survey more than it did in any other province – 50 per cent of women respondents cited it as the top issue whereas only 37 per cent male respondents from the province cited it the same way. Although a lower number of respondents in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan mentioned purchasing power as a top issue than they did in Punjab, the trend of women prioritising it more than men was steadily observed in these two provinces as well.
Although male and female citizens face similar constraints to purchasing power, a possible explanation for this trend is that women are responsible for managing household budgets and making purchases for day-to-day needs. It, therefore, makes sense that they feel a stronger impact of price hikes in food items — which, along with housing and utility costs, are the highest weighted components of the Pakistan Consumer Price Index which, in turn, is used to calculate inflation.
Less aware; more uncertain
Despite clearly articulating priorities on issues that resonate with their lived experiences, women were found by the survey to be less likely than men to stay regularly updated on current affairs. While 67 per cent of men reported that they stayed updated on politics and national news most or some of the time, only 34 per cent of women said they did so too.
This reported gap in awareness is reflected in how women attribute the issues they care about to particular actors. Purchasing power is tied to the face value of rupee and when respondents were asked who they thought was responsible for the weakening value of rupee, a majority of them cited the federal government. Women respondents, however, were far more uncertain than men about whom to attribute responsibility to: 21 per cent of them said they did not know who was responsible for it (whereas only 7 per cent male respondents said so). A similar gender gap was visible with reference to the attribution of responsibility for national debt.
Women may lag behind in political awareness but they form a sizable and expanding proportion of the Pakistani electorate and, for the most part, they intend to exercise their right to vote in the upcoming polls by the same degree as men do. As more women participate and claim their stake in the electoral process, it is a responsibility of political parties and election candidates to directly address them and create a more gender-inclusive political landscape – not just for the 2018 elections but also for the future.
The battle of narratives
By Ali Cheema and Asad Liaqat
Three narratives have defined the 2018 elections: service delivery, corruption and respect for vote. The Herald-SDPI opinion survey, conducted between June 25 and July 12 this year, elicited public opinions regarding these narratives to ascertain which of them is resonating with the voters and whether there are any electorally significant narratives that are missing from the media discourse on the upcoming elections.
In the months leading up to the elections, there has been an intense media debate on how well the provincial governments in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa have performed on the delivery of public services. The parties ruling the two provinces, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) respectively – and to a lesser extent, the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) in Sindh – have used myriad data sources to make a case for how the delivery of healthcare, education, communication and transport infrastructure, and other public services has dramatically improved in their jurisdictions since the last general elections in 2013. The survey put these claims to the test of public opinion to ascertain whether public service delivery has improved, stayed the same or worsened over the last five years. Two distinct regional variations have emerged out of the exercise:
1-Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa
The survey results show that the efforts of both PML-N and PTI in the realm of healthcare and education have paid off. A majority of the respondents in both Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa feel that the provision of these two services has improved. The difference in public perceptions in the two provinces on this count is, in fact, too narrow to distinguish statistically. A majority of the survey respondents in both provinces also attribute this improved performance to their respective provincial governments. Both PML-N and PTI can, therefore, rest easy knowing that they have satisfied a fair share of citizens in the province they have ruled since 2013 and that this may create a pro-incumbency effect in their favour.
As far as the provision of transport is concerned, a greater proportion of the respondents in Punjab compared to those in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa reports an improvement. Similarly, public perception on improvements in electricity provision is significantly higher in Punjab than in other provinces.
The credit (or blame) for the state of electricity provision is given by two-thirds of the respondents in both Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to PML-N’s federal government. This implies that the high satisfaction with improvement in electricity provision among the respondents from Punjab may help the party on polling day but poorer levels of satisfaction on the same count in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa may hurt it in that province.
It is heartening to note that the respondents in both the provinces perceive law and order to have improved since the last election: half of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s and 70 per cent of Punjab’s respondents report a positive change, though the relatively smaller number for the former province is likely to have been driven by the unique terrorism-related challenges in maintaining law and order there.
The provision of water is where the provincial governments of PML-N and PTI have performed poorly. Less than a third of the respondents in either province state that the provision of water has improved; close to half state it has stayed the same and 20-30 per cent say it has gotten worse.
2-Sindh and Balochistan
Both Sindh and Balochistan are lagging markedly behind Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa as far as public perceptions of improved service delivery are concerned. Less than a quarter of the survey respondents in Sindh feel that healthcare, education, water and transport services have improved since 2013. Balochistan fares even worse.
Law and order is the only area where close to a majority of the respondents from Sindh report improvement. Only a quarter of them, however, attribute this to the provincial government. This gives rise to what many observers term as the perpetual puzzle of rural Sindh’s politics: how does PPP continue to command the support of a majority in the region despite such poor perceptions of public service delivery? We provide an answer to this puzzle in the accompanying article that analyses public perceptions on regional inequality.
Corruption: a polarising narrative
The high level of satisfaction with public service delivery among the respondents from Punjab raises an important question: why has PML-N’s electoral lead in the province declined relative to 2013 despite such positive perceptions? The answer to this question may be a decisive factor in the 2018 elections.
One popular answer points towards Nawaz Sharif’s dismissal as prime minister over corruption charges as the main cause for the fall in PML-N’s support in Punjab. The survey, however, finds that public opinion is strongly divided along party lines on the issue of corruption: 81 per cent of the respondents in Punjab who intend to vote for PML-N say the party is honest whereas 66 per cent of those who intend to vote for PTI in the province consider PML-N to be a dishonest party.
The group whose perception of PML-N’s honesty (or dishonesty) will matter the most in the upcoming elections is the undecided voter in Punjab. The survey finds that this group of respondents does not have a clear view on the subject: 27 per cent of them declare PML-N to be dishonest compared to 20 per cent who see it as honest; almost half (48 per cent) state that it is neither honest not dishonest or that they simply do not know. Whether this ambiguity among the undecided voters in Punjab will result in sizable electoral gains for PTI remains an open question.
Respect for vote: a constituency to be tapped
PML-N has countered the corruption narrative with its own rallying cry: ‘vote ko izzat do’ (give respect to the vote). Since PML-N’s prospects of forming the next federal government are centered on Punjab, the resonance of this campaign strategy depends on the extent to which undecided voters in Punjab are dissatisfied with the state of democracy. Here, the survey suggests both good and bad news for PML-N.
The good news is that 34 per cent of the undecided voters in Punjab are dissatisfied with the extent to which the vote is respected in Pakistan — compared to only 20 per cent who are satisfied. This indicates that there is a significant portion of these undecided voters who think their vote is disrespected and, hence, may be amenable to PML-N’s message on polling day. The bad news is that an even greater proportion (41 per cent) of them is unclear about the issue. In the final analysis, any electoral gains that may accrue to PML-N on this count in Punjab will depend on whether or not Nawaz Sharif’s recent incarceration has increased the importance of respect for vote among the province’s undecided voters.
What matters to voters?
The ambiguity on corruption and respect for vote may lead the undecided voters to base their voting decisions on other factors which leads to an obvious question: what are the most important issues that voters think political parties should focus on? Purchasing power is by far the biggest issue for them — reported by 43 per cent of undecided voters in Punjab. The provision of water is a distant second – reported by 14 per cent of them – and corruption, at 10 per cent, is the third most important issue for the same group of voters.
Poor performance in the delivery of water – and corruption – may be partly responsible for the reduction in PML-N’s lead in Punjab. This is not to say that PML-N’s public service delivery initiatives in other areas – such as education, healthcare, transport and electricity – have had no effect on voters. These were perhaps the issues that people cared more about in 2013 than anything else. With improvements in them, the voters now appear to have moved on to other issues.
It’s the macroeconomy, stupid!
Economists and financial markets have been raising alarm bells over the build-up of Pakistan’s sovereign debt and ability of future governments to maintain the current levels of public service provision while having to shoulder the increasing burden of repaying this debt. PML-N has downplayed these concerns, pointing towards infrastructure projects and public service investments as a fair price to pay for the rising debt burden. How do citizens perceive the issue?
The survey results indicate that the ultimate arbiter in this debate – the Pakistani voter – has very pessimistic views about the debt burden and the weakening value of Pak rupee. The voter squarely blames PML-N’s federal government for what is perceived as a worsening macroeconomic situation.
The vast majority of the survey respondents – 78 per cent in Punjab, 68 per cent in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, 70 per cent in Sindh – believe that the burden of sovereign debt has become excessively high. A somewhat lower (but still alarmingly high) number of respondents in each province believes that the value of Pak rupee is weak or extremely weak. What makes this perception electorally consequential for PML-N is that an overwhelming number of respondents attribute these macroeconomic challenges to the party’s federal government.
It is perhaps due to this pessimistic assessment of the macroeconomy that voters’ outlook in Punjab about their personal financial future is looking either uncertain or bleak. When asked how their personal financial situation will change over the coming year, 39 per cent of the respondents in the province stated that they do not know how it will change and 23 per cent say it will either remain the same or worsen. Compared to this, 36 per cent of them say they expect it to improve. Collectively, these numbers suggest uncertainty at best and pessimism at worst, indicating a lack of confidence in the incumbent government’s macro-economic management. PML-N may, thus, end up paying the price for this — provided the voters are willing to overlook PTI’s inexperience in handling the macroeconomy.
We have explored the handling of the macroeconomy as the most salient issue for voters, one which is hurting PML-N’s public perception in the run-up to a critically important election for the party’s future. We have also explored service delivery where PML-N and PTI seem to have received positive performance reviews in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, respectively, while PPP’s performance has been perceived negatively in Sindh.
Each of these will count as voters cast their ballots but, as the survey suggests, it is undecided voters in Punjab whose role will be pivotal in deciding who forms the next federal government. It remains to be seen whether the electoral harm caused to PML-N by poor perception of the macroeconomy is countered by its positive perception on service delivery as well as by its ‘respect the vote’ campaign. Similarly, it is not clear whether PTI’s corruption narrative can swing enough undecided voters in Punjab to its side.
In this battle of narratives on a polarised playing field, it is in the interest of both the parties to channel their messages towards the relatively confused, unsure and less politically charged undecided voters in Punjab. That is where they need to focus their efforts if they want to form the next federal government.
Does regional inequality matter?
By Ali Cheema and Asad Liaqat
In all federal states, regional variations in resource distribution and the perceived extent of inequality among different regions are hotly contested issues. The way citizens view regional and provincial inequality in Pakistan has, indeed, resulted in a vibrant discourse about the political and economic rights of different regions which, in turn, has shaped electoral promises by various parties and resulted in the passage of legislation around fiscal federalism.
In the run-up to the 2018 elections, it is, therefore, pertinent to ask: what do citizens across Pakistan think about federal and regional inequalities? The Herald-SDPI survey put this question to the respondents in each province, asking them if their province is getting its rightful share of the federation’s resources. The respondents in Punjab have, in addition, been asked whether they perceive the northern and the southern parts of the province to be getting their rightful share from the resource pool. Similarly, the respondents in Sindh have been asked the same question regarding rural and urban (consisting of Karachi and Hyderabad) areas of the province.
The survey results show that provincial and regional inequality is a big issue for the people in all four provinces and that they will be judging different political parties running for office – as well as the actions of the next government – on this count. The issue is clearly resonating with citizens in Sindh. The survey shows that almost two-thirds of respondents from the province state that its rural parts get less than their rightful share of the federation’s resources. Interestingly, 57 per cent of the respondents from the same province also feel that the cities of Karachi and Hyderabad, too, are receiving less than their rightful share of the resources.
The perception of provincial inequality among voters in Sindh is an important reason why the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) – that spearheaded the passage of the 18th Amendment which has resulted in the devolution of many federal powers to the provinces – retains a strong vote base here. It also explains why the party’s narrative of political rights for Sindh continues to resonate with voters in the province. It may further explain why poor service delivery does not hurt PPP electorally in Sindh.
The survey shows that provincial inequality is also a big issue for the respondents in Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. More than two-thirds of respondents from Balochistan state that their province gets less than its rightful share of the federation’s resources; 55 per cent of the respondents in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa hold the same view about their own province. This suggests that the devolution of power from the centre to the province is likely to remain an important political mandate for the parties that will win electoral majorities in Sindh, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan in the upcoming elections. This, in turn, will shape the debate around the 18th Amendment and the National Finance Commission award for the distribution of federal resources among provinces.
In Punjab, on the other hand, the debate on regional inequality is about the distribution of resources within the province. The issue of regional inequality has been gaining momentum among politicians and political workers in the southern districts of the province in recent times. While the 2018 election manifesto of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) commits the party to developing “a national consensus on the creation of a South Punjab province on administrative grounds,” PPP’s 2018 manifesto gives a clear commitment to carving out a new province in Punjab “in accordance with the Constitutional Amendment Bill already passed in the Senate in 2012-13.”
The basis for these demands is the claim that the provincial government of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) did not ensure regional equality in access to funds for southern Punjab in spite of the high poverty rates that prevail in that region. PMLN, however, has consistently maintained that it has ensured regional equality in the allocation of development funds and provincial resources.
What is the view of the ultimate arbiter of this debate: the voter in Punjab? The Herald-SDPI survey shows that only 19 per cent of the respondents from the province believe that northern Punjab (including central districts) gets less than its fair share of resources. This changes dramatically when it comes to southern Punjab: approximately half of the respondents from the province believe that its southern region gets less than its rightful share of provincial resources.
Over 40 per cent of PMLN’s own supporters and a similar proportion of the undecided voters in Punjab also feel the same way. This proportion is even higher for those who support either PTI or PPP in Punjab: 60 per cent of them hold the view that southern Punjab is treated unjustly in resource distribution.
All this suggests that a large number of voters in Punjab perceive that regional inequalities exist. Has PMLN missed an opportunity to mobilise votes in southern Punjab by not addressing this issue in its 2018 manifesto? A clear answer will emerge after polling day.
What is clear is that whichever party forms the next Punjab government will have to address political demands for restructuring the fiscal and governance framework of the province.
*Ali Cheema is Associate Professor at Lahore University of Management Sciences and Senior Fellow at the Institute of Development and Economic Alternatives. Asad Liaqat is a PhD Candidate in Public Policy at Harvard University. Sarah Khan is completing a PhD in Political Science at Columbia University. *
Data coordination: Namrah Zafar Moti, Sarah Dara and Aliyah Sahqani.
Sampling and data analysis: Ahsan Tariq, Fatiq Nadeem and Ahsan Zia Farooqui.
Data collection: Institute of Research, Advocacy and Development (IRADA), Punjab Lok Sujag, Nari Foundation, Yusra Jabeen, Sharjeel Arshad, Tariq Ahmed, Gulab Ahmed, Muhammad Arif, Qadir Dino, Zafar Musayni, Saddam Jamali, Mumtaz Sajidi, Fataullah Kasi, Gohar Rafique, Aimal Khan, Muhammad Arif, Aziz Khan, Abid Sherani, Masood Achakzai and Abdullah Jan.
This survey has been financially supported and supervised by the Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI), designed by the Institute of Development and Economic Alternatives (IDEAS) and carried out by the Herald magazine.